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Monday 08 November 2010


The Gay Blade

4th November 2010

It Gets Better - Even With HIV

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I have really loved the whole It Gets Better project - I think it’s so important to reach young gay/queer people and let them know that in fact the terrible shit we often have to deal with as teens doesn’t last and life can in fact be pretty damn good even if you don’t fit the normal patterns.

Some people have criticised it for being too simplistic, for not acknowledging the crap and bullying that can happen all through our lives, or for being too white and middle-class, and while I get that point, I think it ignores the fact that for most of us life does get better.

I’ve wondered if there would be any point to doing something similar but about living with HIV. Because, as shitty as it is to have this virus in us - and it is - it does get better over time. And again, there are exceptions to be kept in mind - it’s not a bed of roses, but it’s not as bad as it was in the old days.
Now I don’t know how I’d cope if I were living in a small town and had HIV. I imagine it would be very lonely and difficult without good friends and other HIV+ people to share stuff with. Having a network of HIV+ mates and knowing how to use the services around, and just being in a gay community that is supportive of me and looks past my HIV makes a massive difference. I know I’m lucky. And some poz people have very limited choices about where they can live for all sorts of reasons, so they can’t just up sticks and move to a bigger city with better access to support. I’d love to see something effective done to give those poz people better support somehow.

There is something lacking in support for HIV+ people in NZ, and to be frank none of the groups or organisations around are doing that good a job at meeting those needs right now, with the exception of Positive Women, and even they have their critics.
But, after that initial shock of diagnosis, which  can often take a couple of years to get over, or for some even longer, life with HIV does get better for most of us. You can travel. You can work. You can have a sex life.You can fall in love. You can lead a good life. Maybe it won’t be the life you would have had without HIV, but you can still have a very good life.

It’s important to hold onto hope, especially in the bad times. When I was diagnosed in 1988 I was told I had about 2 years to live - but I’m still alive, working, loving, playing, and enjoying my life mostly. I’ve had times of being incredibly sick, and for a long time I never imagined that it could or would get better - but it has.

Hold on through the bad times, ask for help and support. It does get better.

→ 1 CommentTags: General

19th October 2010

I’m Still Standing…

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Hmm, haven’t been here for a while have I ? Life has been busy - and I’m not complaining about that, well, just a little.

But the big news I turn 49 tomorrow. It’s big news for me anyhow. In 1988 I was told by a Dr in London that I probably had 2 years to live, so I’m glad I’m still here. I’ve been so lucky compared to so many.

I was talking the other day with a family friend, a woman in her late 70s, who buried her son in the early 90s, before HAART came out, he died about the time I was told I’d die in fact. I always enjoy seeing her, she’s a lovely woman, and she always asks me how I am.

We were talking about her son’s situation compared to mine, and agreed it was nothing more than luck. I was able to just hold on long enough until the new meds came through in 1996. I was already very ill by then, and without them I would have followed him to the grave by now I’m utterly certain.

I don’t believe in destiny or fate. I don’t believe I’m alive because I’ve had the right positive thoughts about myself. I know I’m not alive due to the “alternative” medicine I tried in the early 90s.

I am alive because I was probably infected a little bit later, and my body was able to keep going till Western Medicine came up with effective medications.

I often say (jokingly) that I want drugs tested on puppies by scientists in white coats - but it’s only half a joke. I actually DO want effective medication, I’ve seen the benefits. I don’t want some crystal-waving  herbal hippy shit, or loopy pseudo-scientific rubbish like ozone-bagging. It doesn’t work.I’d be dead without Western science, so I’m a big fan.

So many wonderful men I knew weren’t as lucky as me. So many men I danced with, fucked with, fought with, laughed with, dreamed with - dead and gone, often in their 20s or early 30s.

When things get me down, and they do just like with anyone else, I remind myself that at least I’m still here, at least I’ve got this far, and I thank my lucky stars. I’ve got great family, fantastic friends, and most of all, I’ve got a future, with future plans and dreams. I am so lucky.

It won’t be a big birthday party - that’s for next year, but every birthday feels like a little victory for me, and a little memorial for those who didn’t get this far.

→ 8 CommentsTags: General

3rd September 2010

Can We Talk?

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Because there is something we’re not really dealing with in Homoland. It’s not HIV, but I’d argue a lot of our new HIV infections are caused by it.

I’m talking about the generally poor state of gay men’s mental and emotional health. Britain’s Attitude magazine recently did a story on it, which got picked up by The Observer. I see no reason to doubt the situation is any different here, in fact what I know of my own life and the scene I move through confirms this for me.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a gay man here in Auckland about the same problems. Gay men have higher than average rates of depression, of drug and alcohol dependency, of STIs, of emtoional and mental health issues in general, and, tragically, of suicide.

Yet it’s a topic we don’t seem willing or able to address.

I’ve been to far too many funerals of friends who have committed suicide. And I confess, it’s something I’ve thought about often myself. That began for me as a teenager, realising I was gay at 14 or 15, and thinking it was the worst possible thing in the world and that I couldn’t possibly find a way to live with it, that my life would be marred by shame and isolation, that I’d be rejected by my family, that I’d never find someone to love me - all those horrible and destructive thoughts weighed down on me as I look at the world around me, and only saw gay men portrayed as sick, sad perverts to be laughed at or attacked. At 16 I went around for several months with a razor blade in my pocket, wondering if I should use it. I never did.

And suicide is a thought, a theme, that still sits with me, the idea that I could end my own life one day. Before anyone panics and calls in emergency counsellors, let me say, I have never actually made an attempt, or even planned it, and I’m fairly content and planning on staying around to piss people off for a while yet. But I’ve thought about it - especially in the worst days of what AIDS was doing to me in the 90s. And I know I am not alone in this.

But we don’t talk about it. Or when we do, a lot of guys seem to blame themselves, to wonder what they’ve done wrong, what it is about them that makes their lives this way.

It’s not us. That’s something I’m very clear about.

We live in a world that marginalises us and makes us fight for every scrap of acceptance we get. Yes there have been massive and important legal changes - but society in general is still not that friendly towards us. And most parents would tell you that if their son is gay they’ll “deal” with it, but even that  tells you it’s something they’d not choose for their son, it’s not their first, best option - it’s something that has to be coped with. Every time I read a news report about a teenage boy killing himself and family and friends are trying to understand the tragedy, saying how it doesn’t make sense, what a good student/sportsman/friend he was,  I always wonder “Was he gay? Was he like me at that age, but he actually did it?” And I’ve spoken to young gay men who have found the way their family reacted to their coming out so difficult they’ve embarked on behaviour I can only see as self-destructive, at times with terrible results - and yes, I do blame the parents to some extent in those situations. Your 19 year old son got HIV or killed himself? What did you do to set up his life so he wouldn’t? How did you react when he came out to you?

We live in a largely homophobic world, and that takes its toll. We rarely get to see positive images of gay men on TV, in film, in pop songs - and these things matter. If we can’t see ourselves in the everyday culture around us, and see ourselves depicted in a positive light, the unspken message is that we don’t count, that we are in fact not worth it, that we can’t have stories of love and happiness played on the radio or shown on the screen. That’s a deeply corrosive and harmful message. And as I’ve said before, when I talk to young gay guys coming out, they typically say that they want a boyfriend, but the gay scene offers them bars, drink, sex and drugs. We don’t seem to have the social infrastructure to offer them, or older guys, ways to meet and to be outside of highly sexualised settings. I love sex, love a party, as anyone who has been paying attention to knows, but they are the icing on the cake - not the cake itself - or they shouldn’t be.

Do we need an institutional response? These mental health issues are just as important as HIV, we do have a real mental health problem as a group, but as they are less visible they attract far less interest. Could the NZAF do more in this area? Not without extra funding, and just whether it is where they should be working is a debate in itself. Could we get a campaign like John Kirwan’s one on depression up and running?

I’m not sure what the answer is, I’m not sure how we make our world better for us and for the younger generations coming out, but I do think we need a conversation, I do think we need to start talking about it, and considering just what we can do.

→ 5 CommentsTags: General

9th August 2010

And the Runner-Up Is…

Posted by: Michael Stevens


Me. In the Urge Mr Leather competition last Friday. In case you were wondering.

I have never entered a competition like this before, and I very much doubt I ever shall again, but I have to say it was a lot of fun. It was the persistent bullying of the owners while I was in a mentally weakened state that pushed me into the contest in the first place “Go on… ! Go on!” - that and my admission I can fit into my leathers again - with a good belt to help things in place.

The thought of winning a free trip to Melbourne to represent NZ over there was tempting, but the thought of having to compete again was less appealing I have to say. I do not have a gym-toned body, as much as that may surprise some of you, and feel my advancing years keenly. And the winner in Melbourne gets sent to IML (International Mr Leather)  a contest that’s been going for 32 years, in Chicago.

But the cool thing about the leather community is that it is very broad in how it defines itself and who its members are. This year, the winner at IML in Chicago, Tyler McCormick, was the first winner in a wheelchair and the first FTM guy to win it as well. So what happened to the stereotypes about the leather-scene being this place of muscle men who are so wrapped up in their dead-cow and egos they don’t notice or care about anything else? Not true. Like any other part of the gay scene, you can find idiots and bastards in the leather community, but it’s a pretty friendly and non-judgemental place by and alrge I reckon.

I’ve been in and out of the leather world since I was first introduced to it in Melbourne when I was 18. At that age I was a little amibvalent, a little scared (and fascinated) but I think the men I met in that world then often treated me better as a young gay man than those in the wider scene. There’s nothing like being in a minority in a minority. Do you have to be into filthy kinky sex to be into leather? No. Though I guess there is a higher chance of encountering more sexually adventurous men in this crowd that elsewhere *cough*.

And I like my leathers, and was surprised at how much I had when I pulled it all out of the wardrobe: some of it I bought, some was gifted to me and carry memories of the friends who gave it, and I did have to borrow a couple of things as well in the end.

But anyway, Friday night! The tension ! The excitement ! OK, there were only four of us this year - one contestant had pulled out the day before - but you work with what you get. And we had the added glamour of Mr Leather Australasia who’d come over from Melbourne to guest-judge. There was a bit of horror when we saw the complete hanky-code colour chart on the wall and realised we might be exmained on it - an utterly ridiculous number of variations, but luckily I don’t think that question came up. (Did you know that pale pink is for those with a toe fetish - pale pink = shrimp = toes)

Now, it was a friend’s birthday that day too, so I’d had a few drinks in the evening with him and some mates, then headed home to get ready, headed up to Kamo for Furry Friday with the Bears, and a few more drinks, then onto Urge and free drinks in the changing room. Yes, no mention of food in that list is there - so yes, I was pretty hammered before I got on stage. I am still trying to remember just what I said on stage, but I’m pretty sure I was for world peace.

But, it was fun. The Urge crowd was great, all very encouraging, and when we rushed around collecting funds for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, we raised $720 in 25 minutes - not bad at all. I think that is me for such contests though - like sky-diving, good to do once in your life, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.

Jamie Gates won, and deserved to, congratulations and have fun in Melbourne - he did really well. Murray and Mal, thanks, you were worthy foes. And while it was a contest of two rounds, I think we can say that leather was the winner on the night.

→ 2 CommentsTags: General

30th June 2010

Putting the “Sex” back into homosexuality.

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I haven’t written about sex in oh, at least an hour, so why not start again. Actually, it’s part of my job, doing my PhD, writing about sex and how gay men have sex - and I usually enjoy it - the writing I mean. Oh, and the fieldwork.

I’ve been thinking about what it was like when I was a baby-gay, back in the 70s when I was in my teens and coming out. Nearly all my initial contacts were sexual, until I was about 17 and started making gay friends, and as a teenage boy getting all that sex, I was very, very happy with that. Young, dumb and full of cum, as they say. Yes, I also wanted a boyfriend, and love, but like most teenage boys, I tended to think with my dick.

Suddenly there was a whole world of fun in front of me. And Gay Liberation actually had the message of sexual freedom at its core. We aren’t heterosexuals, so why form our social and sexual patterns on their models? If you want to go and fuck till sunrise every day, well why not? And a lot of guys did that.

That’s putting it a bit crudely, but there was a sense that we needed to move away from the judgmental and anti-pleasure aspect of so much of how the straight world saw us.There was a strong message of celebrating the body, celebrating the sexual. This didn’t mean you couldn’t fall in love and have a partner, but there was so much negativity about two (or more) men getting naked and having fun that Gay Lib thought it important to stress that there is nothing wrong with it.

Instead of the old message from society ‘You are evil sick perverts for doing that’ we took on a new “sex-positive” message instead, saying two (or more) men getting naked and having fun was a very good thing indeed - if that’s what you wanted. I remember at one of the first Gay Lib meetings I went to at uni being told how lucky we were as gay men - we could screw around as much as we liked and no-one would get pregnant, the worst that could happen was syphilis and that just needed some pills.

And then, along came AIDS.

And with it came a whole lot of finger-pointing and moralising, and an awful lot of people saw it as God’s punishment on filthy homos. Quite a lot of self-hating gay men did as well. And some still do - I’ve met them.

But there’s a mistake in  their logic. HIV can be transmitted by sex, but it’s not caused by sex.

Yet the old stupid, anti-pleasure messages keep coming through. I think NZ has quite a strong puritan streak to it - all those bloody missionaries had a bad effect. Christianity really doesn’t like anyone having a good time with their body. And I am surprised at how often I come across the attitude even today among some gay men, this idea that sex is bad, a sin, something that shouldn’t be talked about, shouldn’t be mentioned and the cause of all our woes. Then they disappear into a sauna, have sex, and feel terrible about themselves again. Sad really.

It doesn’t have to be like that! Sex is great ! Or it can be. No - It’s not the be-all and end-all of life, and sex is different from love, something a lot of gay men know very well. And when sex and love come together, well, that’s magic, that’s probably what we all want I guess. But even if I had the perfect partner, I suspect I’d still want to fuck around, and would expect it not to be a problem.

I’m still often utterly entranced by the random beauty of men I end up in bed with. Some are regular fuck-buddies, some are casual one-offs - but it’s rare that I end up naked with a guy and don’t find something beautiful and sexy in him. I hope that they feel the same way. And I know, I’m getting older, greyer, saggier, I’m not as desirable as I once was, but I don’t care too much.

It’s my body, and I like my body, and I like what I can do with it, and what can be done to it. And that’s enough for me.

→ 21 CommentsTags: General

21st June 2010

I Like Dykes.

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I listened to a couple of guys I know the other day making jokes about lesbians. Not nice jokes. These were gay guys too, not idiotic straights - and it made me wonder: Why do some gay men seem to find lesbians hard to deal with?

I’ve always had dyke friends, since I was 17 or so and just coming out. Maybe that’s exposed me to their world more, so I’m comfortable around it, I don’t know, but some of the stuff I hear from other gay guys really repels me. It’s nasty sexist bullshit, and I doubt they’d tolerate it if a straight guy talked about them that way.

And I remember the way so many dykes stepped up and got so deeply involved in HIV/AIDS: They didn’t need to - it’s not a virus that lesbians tend to get infected with. But they stood up for us in a huge way. Way more than some of the closety bitter queens that are still around. Lesbians helped protest for better care and treatment, they helped in a practical on-the-ground sense of getting food to people, driving them to hospital appointments, and they took care of us, they looked out for gay men sick and dying with AIDS in a way that most of the rest of society wouldn’t.

How many gay men are interested or even aware of any health issues in the lesbian world?

I suppose one thing is that lesbians in general tend to be much more politically switched on than gay men. They get done over by society twice: first for being women and then for being same-sex attracted. And yes, society still treats women unequally - look at the pay gap over a lifetime’s work if you want a simple example of it. While all the technical and legal disadvantages to being female might have been removed, the social and cultural ones are still strong. But most gay men never really understand that side of things. The old message that came out of lesbian-feminist politics “The personal is political” still holds, but it’s something that a lot of gay men don’t have to engage with - we’re still men at the end of the day.

Part of it shows the weakness of trying to build a community based only on sexual orientation. Gay men like men - lesbians like women - so some assume that we should all be the same, but we’re not. Being part of a group attracted to the same biological gender doesn’t make a community. Shared history, shared ideas, and shared rituals do, and so does shared oppression - yet now that we’ve become so mainstream in so many ways, and a lot of that social oppression has lifted, that sense of connecteness has been eroded.

So I guess I just want to say I like dykes. I have strong, intelligent, funny and kind lesbians in my life, and I think you’re great. You make my life richer.

→ 9 CommentsTags: General

2nd June 2010

Caught in the Net

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Every now and then I get an email from some dating site I joined up and lost interest in, telling me someone has left me a message.

They’re usually from Ghana or somewhere in the old USSR, telling me how much they loved my profile and that distance is no obstacle to our love -  I don’t even bother checking those emails now. But thanks guys anyhow. I’ve looked at, and joined, and forgotten, a lot of sites over the years.

Just how many gay dating sites are there? Here in New Zealand nzdating has things pretty well sewn up, but gaydar can get pretty busy.  They’re all a bit different, but with a fair amount of crossover too. Damn, admitting I know that shows how much time I spend on them. Well, I did do my MA on gay men’s online sex-lives, I’m just maintaining my research interest, honest.

Let’s see - what comes to mind first? - NZDating, Recon, Gaydar,, Grindr, Manhunt, BearWWW, Hairy Turks, GayRomeo, Squirt, Silver Daddies, Adam4Adam  - that’s just a little list, and they all have their own characteristics. Some seem to attract certain age groups, and some are designed to target certain groups. Some are more geographically specific, some are international. You can find sites for just about any kind of gay identity it seems: You’re a gay Mormon? There’s a dating site for you. You’re in your 20s but like guys in their 50s & 60s? Try Silver Daddies. Have you moved beyond vanilla sex? should do you just fine. You’re a total Mac-geek? Grindr is already on your iPhone I’m sure.

 There are of course sites that deal only in bareback sex - you ‘d better know what you’re doing if you go to them. And we tend to call them dating sites, but let’s face it - most of the time they’re not. NZDating is widely known as NZFucking for good reason. But sometimes people do meet up on them and fall, not just into bed, but in love, and create a relationship. I’ve known men fly across the world for someone they’ve met online - always a bold move, and not one that always plays out so well. Then there are the sites like X-tube, not officially gay as such, and more about sexual display, but even there gay men reveal all sorts of strange things about themselves, often providing intimate glimpses into their lives and hearts along with the money-shot.

The net has changed so much of our social world. For gay men, I think it’s been a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s made it easier for a whole lot of guys in small isolated places to feel connected. It’s also made it easier to hook up. And it’s made it easier for a lot of guys who don’t like the gay scene, or who are deeply in the closet, to get a bit of nooky in their lives. And there can be a sense of community online, but I think it’s pretty thin. There are people on various sites I’ve been chatting to for ages, but will most likely never meet - I’m not sure I would want to spoil the illusion by letting reality intrude.

But I think it’s also had the unintended consequence of weakening the gay world. It does seem harder for bars and clubs, the traditional centres of urban gay life, to keep going. Without the need to actually hang out with a bunch of other homos, we get less of a sense of ourselves I think, we become a bit more isolated, a bit more fragmented.

And sometimes it just seems so lonely and hopeless, seeing so many men out there with their impossible wish-lists for their perfect partner. So many men, sitting at home, typing out messages to each other, opening up their hearts at times, sometimes just their flies, but so often expressing a real desire for affection, for connection and for love to some stranger. And then they meet - and then? As I said, I know some happy stories, but they seem to be in the minority. 

Apart from the lucky few, I don’t think life online is going to bring those things. We get this false sense of intimacy when we’re online, but you don’t really get to know people unless they’re sharing the same air as you, unless you can see them and hear them.

I won’t be going off the grid, but I do wonder just what it’s doing to us all at times.

→ 2 CommentsTags: General

21st May 2010

This Could Be You or Me

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Some of you will be aware of this story that has been doing the rounds this week.

Two men, lovers, in Malawi, have been sentenced to 14 years in prison for getting engaged, for publicly acknowledging their love for each other and for being public about the fact they are men who love men.

Malawi is an old British colony, like us, and like us they were governed under British laws, and it is under these laws that these men have been prosecuted. One of the weird things about so many ex-colonies, and old cultures that have rushed to embrace the modern western way of life is how puritanical sexual ideas have taken such strong root in them. When Catholic missionaries got to China in the 16th Century they were appalled at how people regarded men having male lovers as not even worth commenting on. China after the revolution became sexually more puritan than the Seventh Day Adventists. We know that in Africa all sorts of different forms of sexuality were seen in the many different cultures there: Today we see a restrictive, and often hypocritical level of adherence to “Christian” morals and compulsory heterosexuality largely underwritten by nutty American Christian fundamentalists.

The strangest part of the hypocrisy I see is the way they use the bible to justify their stance. yet it was the bible that was used to justify both slavery of Africans in general, and apartheid in the old South Africa: God had ordained that Blacks should serve Whites, or that was how they interpreted Genesis 9:25 - 27. I wonder if anyone has reminded them of this fact.

And I feel powerless to do anything meaningful. In the past I have boycotted products from countries I opposed, or written to their ambassador, or taken part in protests, but I really don’t know what to do here. I probably will write to someone there, expressing my anger and disgust.

It wasn’t that long ago that here in New Zealand I could have been arrested for this sort of thing. Every time I went to bed with a man in the pre-Law reform days I knew I was breaking the law. We’ve made huge gains, in both legal terms and terms of social acceptance. But what has been achieved can also be lost - don’t forget that. Seeing gays as a generally accepted part of the general NZ community is something quite new, and while we take it for granted, there are those who would like to see the same position that the judge in Malawi has taken employed here.

I’d just like us all to stop and think for a moment what it would be like to be in these men’s shoes. Imagine their bravery! Imagine their sorrow and despair now at this barbaric and unjust punishment.

→ 5 CommentsTags: General

7th May 2010

My Right of Reply

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Such an interesting set of reactions to my blog on BP, from enthusiastic to damning - no real surprise there.

Any group trying to support people with HIV has some major issues to deal with. In New Zealand we have somewhere between 1,500 - 2,000 people living with HIV. Across the entire country. This is a tiny population of infected people, and I am glad it is so small. If you look across the ditch at say Melbourne or Sydney, you have cities that hold larger populations than our entire country, and in each city you have thousands and thousands more HIV+ people than we have in the entire country. Having so many people in one city means they can provide services on a far more centralised and effective basis than we can ever do here. And hence they have far better organsed HIV+ peer-support groups; They have a much bigger population of HIV+ people in one space, and this makes their job far easier. Trying to provide the same level of service to someone in Gore as someone in Auckland is impossible. It’s brutal but it’s a fact.

Now let me be clear: I don’t want to see BP disappear. I want to see it become relevant and interesting again. Bruce claims there are over 500 people on their books: Well I’ve been on their books since 1994 or so, and so have a fair few others. Typically when you get diagnosed with HIV joining BP is suggested, and many guys do, but how many come back? I know guys who have joined, been along once or twice and never been back, or never even been to a single event organised by them. But they are  included in this number. And yes Bruce, I am still a member. Out of that 500+ how many hundred show up for the AGM? How many does BP manage to actively engage with? And sending out a newsletter is not active engagement.

I’d really like to see BP become safer for young HIV+ men. Twice in the last 12 months I’ve had people under 25 tell me they wouldn’t go back. One because he was hit on within 20 minutes of his first meeting there, the other because, and I quote, “It’s full of creepy old men.” When I mentioned the first young man’s complaint to a board member he just rubbished it. Not what I consider an appropriate response, in fact it is an entirely unacceptable one. Another newly diagnosed guy I met in his late 20s said he thought it was just boring.

Just who does BP speak for? At times it sounds as though it has a mandate to speak for all of us, gay, straight, male and female, but they simply do not have that authority. And again I’ll point to the repeated failure of attempts to set up a national body for people living with HIV in NZ. It has often come down to bitter fights between people from other centres who distrust BP and do not want to be swallowed up by an Auckland based entity. And trust me, some of these fights have been nasty - we’re not one big happy family just because we have the same virus in our blood. We can’t even get gay men who are HIV+ to come together as one national group. Straight men have completely different issues, so do women, so do various ethnic groups. Perhaps part of the problem is lazy journalists simply not looking any further, but it should be remembered that BP only represents BP.

And I think the central thing that makes BP’s job so hard is this: Where once having HIV meant getting AIDS and dying, and it was the most important thing in people’s lives, today this is less and less the case. And not just for old-timers like myself. Again I can think of men who got infected in the last two years who, after the initial shock, and often using some counselling, are simply getting on with their lives. How do you make BP relevant to them? Perhaps it’s not possible.

In some ways they’re caught between a rock and a hard place, yes, they do some things well,  but that doesn’t mean they are immune to criticism or to questioning. No one should be.

→ 3 CommentsTags: General

3rd May 2010

Homo ! Dyke ! Poofter ! Gay ! Leso ! Fag ! Queer !

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Which label fits you best? Which one do you use for yourself ? Or do you hate them all? I think a number of us have had these words spat out at us as terms of hatred at times, and that’s always nasty.

I generally tend to call myself gay, but will also use poof or fag at times, just for the hell of it. In lectures at Uni where it’s appropriate I sometimes call myself a big old homo: Because let’s face it,  I am. But the full word “homosexual” (only invented in 1867, heterosexual came 10 years later) now is seen as clinical and less appealing to many. It sounds like an illness to many, so it seems less popular as a personal term.

There’s an old political idea that by taking over the words our enemies use to attack us and using them ourselves we rob the words of their power as weapons - the growth of Black Pride in the USA in the 60s & 70s (in contrast to the older, more respectable “Negro” or “Coloured”) is an example of this, and so is the recent appropriation of “queer”.

Yet many older gay people, especially older gay men, hate the term “queer”. For them it is associated with the fear, misery and bullying of their youth, but a lot of younger gay people seem to prefer it. And hard as it may be to believe now, “gay” itself was once a radical term to describe same-sex attracted people. Today it seems a bit boring and ordinary as a label, safe and conventional. The growing use of “fag” just shows the growing influence of American culture on us all. I never used to hear it when I was a teenager. And if you think it’s somehow based in the use of the bundles of sticks to burn homos at the stake, well, you’re wrong.

Many lesbians dislike “gay” because it’s seen as too closely tied to male issues and ignores them and the issues that go with being a dyke. And “dyke” was also reclaimed by lesbians in the same way I talked about above: for many “lesbian” seemed too technical, too clinical and dated.

Does it matter? Some people say “Don’t label me! Who I sleep with isn’t who I am!”: Yeah, well I think they’re just kidding themselves. Society labels us all the time. We live in a world of symbols and labels, everywhere, and how they are used can often have a deep political and personal effect. And my first reaction to those who reject any label based on their sexuality is that they still haven’t really come to terms with who they are.

So what about “queer” then? Well let’s start with this nice neat idea that there are two sorts of human sexuality - hetero and homo. A nice idea, but it’s flawed; there are all sorts of permutations and shades of grey in how and who humans fuck. If gay is solely for same-sex attracted people, then what about bisexuals? (They actually do exist). What about people who have differing gender identities from the norm? Transexuals or Intersexed people for example? They’re not gay, but they’re not straight either. “Queer is useful in being inclusive of all types of sexual/gender difference.

“Queer” also took strength as a label from academia, and the invention of Queer Studies in the last 20 years or so. Personally, it’s not a project I have a lot of sympathy for, but it has its place. The beauty of “queer” as a social identifier is that it gives space to those who are marginalised even within the gay world. If you call yourself “queer” you’re stating that you are sexually different, that you’re not straight, and that’s a useful tool to have. In New Zealand you will often see the letters LGBTTI used (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Takatapui, Transgender, Intersex) and let’s face it - queer is easier if you’re trying to be that inclusive.But it also can cover so much ground that issues that it loses force; it sort of assumes too that everyone who is queer will share a common set of interests, and that just isn’t so. For instance, I’d argue most gay men have little interest or understanding of what it means to be a transperson. Their interests are not necessarily those that we fags share, beyond that of basic Human Rights.

Names can and do have the power to hurt or help us. Being abused by people on the basis of who we (or who they think we are) sexually attracted to can be deeply painful. But it’s fun to turn it round at times too. A while back at a cocktail party I was asked if I was married or  if my girlfriend was there and replied “No, I’m a cocksucker.” It made the party a bit more interesting.

And even while writing this I stopped at times and thought” Which word do I use here?” They are slippery things, nowhere near as neat and obvious as we’d like to think, but they matter now and will continue to.

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