Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Monday, February 18, 2008

Homophobia - the worst disease...

"...you can't love who you want to love, in times like these" as Chumbawamba once so eloquently put it.

Post-housewarming party (hoorah - more on that one soon) and post-hangover (thank God) me and the hubbie watched Brokeback Mountain on DVD last night. A bit of a downbeat and sad end to an otherwise fun-filled weekend, but still rewarding viewing nevertheless.

I’d already seen “Brokeback” on the big screen but couldn’t resist snapping it up for a bargain price on DVD recently. A major incentive of course being the very sad and untimely death of Heath Ledger – this film boasts one of his best performances and I wanted to get it as a kind of tribute to him. Not to mention the fact that it’s a very interesting movie from a gay perspective.

In case you’ve been, um, up a mountain or working as a sheep herder on your lonesome, “Brokeback Mountain” is the story of two men, ranch hand Ennis del Mar and rodeo cowboy Jack Twist, who meet and fall in love on the fictional Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming, Western USA in 1963. The film documents their complex and sexual relationship over the next two twenty years, one complication being that, due to social and sexual pressures, they are both forced to marry women, yet still choose to carry on their clandestine affair. Another difficulty is geography, as Ennis and Jack both live far apart and liaisons are thus rare (on one occasion they don’t see each other for four years!) But the final and most arduous obstacle of all is homophobia, which (presumably) leads to the death of Jack at the end. This being 1963 and the American West, attitudes towards homosexuality were far from accepting and same-sex relations were generally regarded as an abomination.

Both Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal do a fine job of portraying the tortured love affair of Ennis and Jack, and their intense frustration at the seemingly insurmountable barriers that prevent them from publicly expressing their love. What I like about the film is the “normalness” of the characters which makes for a refreshing change – there are no over-the-top, camp melodramatics here and not much “lovey-doveyness” between Ennis and Jack (although the latter is probably the more emotional of the two). They are portrayed as being two ordinary guys who just happen to be in love without a proper outlet for expressing their feelings and desires. Ledger’s Ennis is particularly true to life and you can really believe that men like him do exist – a person brim-full of anger, rage and frustration (he actually hits Jack a few times) yet with a sensitivity that is buried so deep it is rarely permitted to surface (e.g. at the movie's end, on his own, he clutches the dead Jack’s denim shirt to him and sobs – a very moving moment indeed). Which makes you realise that love between men can spring up in all kinds of places, in many different forms, and all those stories set on the gay scene in urban metropolises like London, San Francisco, New York etc provide a very small and narrow picture indeed.

The film also got me to thinking further– very obvious I know, but – how very different the experience of actually being gay can be across the world, not to mention how things have moved on considerably in only a few decades. After watching “Brokeback”, Gustavo and I couldn’t help remarking at how extremely fortunate we are to be living as we do now and not in Wyoming in the US in 1963. But in fact there are still many pockets of our supposedly enlightened society where bigoted and backward attitudes still prevail, with no signs of dissipating. To be openly gay (or for that matter, lesbian), to outwardly demonstrate one’s true sexuality, to form relationships with someone of the same sex, to show affection in public, to even be just known as gay – is still viewed as abhorrent by many.

As a 38 year old gay man, when I look back on my life, I’ve count myself as pretty lucky. DAMN lucky in actual fact. From age 7 onwards I grew up in York in North England. A lovely, historical city with a fair amount to see and do, but no gay scene or community so to speak. There was one pub next to the York Minster called “The York Arms” and apparently if you went through the door on the left entrance door that was the “gay side” of the pub. Mmm, great. I think there was a club which had a “gay friendly” night about once a month. That was pretty much about all there was on offer. Consequently I didn’t think there was much around to affirm my burgeoning sexuality and only properly “came out” once I moved away to the Midlands where I went to University – there was a Gay and Lesbian society there for students and for me, it was like an oasis in a desert. It was also where I met my first boyfriend. Years later I moved to Brighton on the South Coast which, with it’s extensive scene and community, is famed for being a gay “haven” and in general is a very “anything goes”, bohemian, accepting town. I had lots of positive experiences there which helped me to grow as a person. Fast forward to years later and I moved up to London which is where I’ve been ever since and eventually met Gustavo who is now my civil partner! (And I will have to tell you all the proper story of how we met one day, but the potted version is that he we didn’t meet in a bar or anything like that, he was my neighbour! Romance can spring up right on your doorstep eh!)

Anyway. The point I’m trying to arrive as is that I’ve had it pretty good and easy compared to some. And I should also add that nowhere can be viewed as entirely safe or accepting, unfortunately. I’m now living with Gustavo in an area of South-East London, which whilst not ultra-rough, could hardly be termed “posh” either – it’s somewhere in between. But I haven’t seen many gays or lesbians strutting around (okay – stereotype I know, as you can’t always tell who “is” or who “isn’t" and any existing friends of Dorothy in my locale aren't exactly likely to be seen roller-skating down the street in pink leotards to the sounds of Gloria Gaynor - for better or for worse). Also – and I am in no way being a racist here – a large proportion of the population where I live are black, and amongst some parts of the black community e.g. Jamaican culture, homosexuality is regarded as a major sin and an offence against God. Black men in particular regard being gay as a major slight on one’s masculinity and a sign of weakness – guys who take it up the a*se are termed “batty men” or “anti men”. And yeah, I’ve had this charming phrase shouted at me a good few times - nice. A few years ago I was walking down a street in North London holding Gustavo’s hand (perhaps a bit of a mistake given the area we were in) when two kids on bikes (one of them can have only been about 10 years old at the most) chased and threw a firework at us. Fortunately no damage was done but it still shook me and I learnt my lesson as a result.

As for where I’m living now, whilst I don’t exactly need to exit my front door wearing a riot shield or protective head gear, I also doubt that I'd walk down our local high street being openly demonstrative with my husband, for fear of something bad happening. Yet if I was walking down Old Compton Street in Soho kissing Gustavo or holding his hand, I doubt that anyone would so much as bat an eyelid. Probably flutter them in encouragement, more like.

In this age of civil partnerships and growing acceptance for lesbians and gays, this is not the way things should be. But regrettably it still DOES seem to be the way in certain circles.

As a result I’m very interested in knowing what kind of experiences my gay bloggers (of which I know there are several) have had during their respective lifetimes.

And at the risk of sounding discriminatory I’m more than happy to hear the views of my “straight” (ahem) bloggers too!

A strong topic for debate, yes?

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  • At 6:06 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I was thinking much the same thing last week. Geraldine and I were away in Carcassonne. She was on business but it was supposed to be a romantic break really. The weather was lovely and the place was heaving with lovers, or that's the way it seemed. They were all strolling around arm in arm and I got quite cross really thinking that there was just no way we could do that. Maybe we could have? I don't know. But it still never feels right to me to show any affection in public, just holding hands or whatever, not groping and snogging (that is embarrassing to watch whatever the genders involved). And anyway, because Geraldine was on business there is no way she would have risked the people she was dealing with, knowing she was gay. And that made me cross too! Why should she have to worry?

    Anyway, yes, I agree with what you say - things are quite easy in terms of the bigger issues (rights and stuff) but the smaller things that heterosexual couples take for granted, are still difficult. Well, they are in my head anyway!

    I enjoyed this piece and I love Brokeback Mountain.

  • At 6:46 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Amen! Yeah, after growing up in a small town in Texas -- I could NOT WAIT to escape to a place where I could be gay without fear of getting beaten to death -- or, as was the case back when I was in college in Texas -- getting arrested or fired for being gay.

    Boston was like a whole other world. And, then PTown!

    ...and New York was an incredible experience for me as a gay young man.

    Now, at 41, I can say that I've tasted the almost world of equality by moving to and living in San Francisco! How cool to hold hands and kiss my love whenever I want without any fears.

    We now live in West Oakland -- just a couple of miles from SF, but here we can't hold hands or kiss outside without any fears. ...we have to cross that bridge.

    I think we will be moving back across the bridge (or maybe to Canada) in the not too far future.

    But, we are so blessed to have come of age when we did!

    I can't help but be a little jealous of the kids coming up now, tho.

    Not easy, but easier I think. ...but, still only in those "pockets" of the US.

    We are still not equal citizens of the US, but we pay the same taxes.

    but our backs shall not be broken!

    Great post!

  • At 10:15 pm , Blogger Lisa said...

    Maybe it's the area I live in, maybe I'm walking around with my eyes closed, but I consider us lucky to be living in the time and the country we are. Yes, it's wrong that gay and lesbian folks should suffer any form of abuse just for being who they are, but you know what? Every day I am surprised at just how quickly people's attitudes are changing. Yes, we now have civil partnerships ... many countries that consider themselves developed don't. We are moving in the right direction. And to put it all into perspective, I have never witnessed any of my gay friends be subject to verbal abuse, yet I myself have had folks shout across the street to me that I am a 'f**king goth freak' because I like to dye my hair black and wear dark eye makeup. Go figure. The way I see it, love is love, and that is a beautiful thing. Nothing else in the equation should matter. And an aesthetic is just that, a fashion, a look. There will always be people who will insult anybody who doesn't conform to their personal definition of normal. We just have to learn to live with it.

    To finish off ... this post here will probably make everyone - gay or straight - appreciate just how lucky we are:


    One Of Your Straight Bloggers :-)

  • At 3:27 am , Blogger Deemer said...

    Great Post!

    Such a broad question which I could write plenty about. But I would say the worst discrimination I had was with the gay community itself. Coming out in PIttsburgh, a medium sized city, was terrible. So many guys told me they dated whites only. I was often asked online if I spoke english, and when they found out I did they were very surprised. I remember a few times some guys asked me if I smelled like "those indians." I remember this guy specifically telling me , "you know (smell) like those guys at the 7-11." It was really awful. I couldn't believe I was being discriminated against my ethnicity by gay people.

    I struggled so much with sexuality--and this is what I came out to. Thank god things got better!!

  • At 5:59 am , Blogger The Sagittarian said...

    I agree. It is such a shame that there is still so much shite out there. Its not in the same league anymore but there was a time when "wimmen" were the discrimination of choice, I guess you could say that there is so much more scope now! I agree with Lisa. Love is love and that should be the end of it. You rock!!

  • At 7:29 am , Blogger Steve said...

    The saddest thing about us humans is the fact that we take so much time to rid ourselves of our own shit... bigotry is slowly being eroded by more enlightened views but the process is frustratingly slow. Some people cling onto their prejudices out of fear of change and fear of something being different or outside their own experience. Which is a shame because at heart we are all - regardless of sexuality or race - basically the same in our emotional responses and our hopes and fears for our world. Surely there'd be enough common ground there for us all to be accepting of each other? We humans are very silly creatures indeed sometimes... but as I said, at least we are wising up. If very slowly.

  • At 12:56 pm , Blogger matty said...

    What Deemer wrote really hit the nail on the head --- and is so tragic.

    The cruelty within this thing we call the gay community is rough.

    I like to think strides are made regarding racism within and without, but being that my partner is of Asian ethnicity --- we see examples that this is just not the case time and time again. Tho, I guess it has gotten better.

    Traveling to the US south (the bible belt) together to meet up with some of my family was a real trip. And, not always a good one.

  • At 1:34 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Wow. Thanks for all your responses, guys and gals, I was hoping this post would generate some significant comment and it obviously has!

    Reluctant - Thanks for your comments! I take it Geraldine is your girlfriend? I know what you mean about being in places where heterosexuals are allowed to freely demonstrate affection etc and not feeling that you can do this yourself - very frustrating.It's really interesting that you've said "it never FEELS RIGHT to me to show any affection in public" and I actually feel sad when I hear you say that. Do you think it's because society has conditioned us to think that it's somehow wrong? It's almost like an internalised thing. As a gay man I know deep down that it's not REALLY wrong to want to show affection with my partner out in public - I should be able to do what the f*ck I like! But it's like there's this barrier that stops me - the fear of something bad happening like getting beaten up or abuse shouted at me - that leads me to think I can't "do" it. Oh I don't know!

    Thinking about it more, a lot of it comes down to visibility. If we were to walk down an average street and SEE gay and lesbian couples embracing, holding hands and kissing, it would encourage us to do the same. And also become much more of a norm, so people wouldn't view it as ABORMAL. That's the theory anyway.

    Matty - Good to hear some of your back story! Is Texas really so bad? Too many macho studs in stetsons bedding the southern belles? (Forgive me but I only have JR Ewing and "Dallas" to go on). Surely it can't be legal to be fired if you're gay any more? That's disgusting.

    So you kind of graduated to the gay world, going up several pink stratas no less! I really do want to come to San Fran one day and see what it's like. Oddly enough I'm re-reading the "Tales of the City" books at the mo. But even in that liberated city, is it really possible to hold hands and kiss in a lot of places? I know Oakland isn't the same vibe though, sounds a bit like the equivalent of where I live.

    You're right too, for kids growing up now it's definitely more acceptable to be gay, what with the proliferation of media images, gays in leading soap operas and dramas etc. Compare to twenty odd years ago and things were NOT the same! Although as you say, there are still some "pockets" where things haven't really changed. I know the US is an ultra-conservative place in some respects isn't it?

    Lisa - Thanks for sharing your thoughts - I liked and agreed with what you said, very much so. Yes you're right, things are going in the right direction. If civil partnerships hadn't been made legal in the UK my partner would probably have had to move back to Brazil, so thank the stars for that!

    You're lucky that none of your gay mates have had trouble. Or rather they're lucky! Sorry to hear that you have had hassle, though! Stupid, ignorant people who are afraid of "difference", eh? That's what it boils down to. Don't judge someone according to their looks.

    Thanks for putting that link up - shocking!! I honestly cannot believe that some of those countries have a prison penalty for being gay, lesbian, transgender etc. Some of the ones in the list I was really NOT expecting to see. Is it true? What's the exact penalty anyway? Do you have to be caught engaging in a sexual act?

    Deemer - Thanks for sharing - and that is very bad to hear - discrimination within the gay community itself. You'd think we'd know better, but no, it seems there are bigoted and stupid people everywhere.

    I also think it's a very narrow way of thinking to only want to interact with/date someone of your own kind e.g. white guys just dating other date guys. How restrictive and boring! I went out with a Pakistani man a number of years ago and whilst it didn't work out long term, obviously had no problems with being with him! Whilst there are obvious cultural differences that doesn't have to be a barrier. In fact it can enrich the relationship and you can learn so much from one another. That's one of the big plusses of my relationship with Gustavo. If I hadn't met him I doubt that I would have learnt all the wonderful things about Brazilian culture and visited the country itself! And isn't it a kind of arrogance to think that those "like" you are the only ones worth knowing?

    Amanda - Thanks honey! Yep love should not know any boundaries for sure. I heard that NZ was a pretty accepting place?

    Steve - We are getting there, but you're right, it is a slow process. And what you say about fear of change and difference is very true and it does hold people back. Look beyond your own narrow horizons and see what else is out there!

    Thanks again for contributing everyone - some very wise and worthwhile thoughts from all of you which I enjoyed reading. I should do these kind of posts more often!

  • At 1:39 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Matty - You obviously posted another response whilst I was composing my own very lengthy one!

    Racism sucks.

    Do you mean that you and Bryon are the target of racist comments? That's terrible. I guess people have just about got over the "shock" of seeing a white/black straight couple, but to see mixed race gay relationships is just too much for some, eh? Please.

    I can believe visiting the bible belt was a difficult trip! Hate to say it but religious people can sometimes be the biggest bigots of all. They use all that "love of God" stuff as an excuse for hatred. A massive contradiction in terms when you think about it!

  • At 9:04 pm , Blogger The Sagittarian said...

    Actually, I'd like to share this wee story with you. One New Year we decided to let the kids stay up to see the new year in. Well, by midnight the youngest one was asleep ont he couch and we thought her sister was too. There was crap on Tv, and then a music show started with Cher. One of our crowd snorted, "Who the hell likes her" and someone-else replied "She has a large gay following apparently".
    Now, at that point my eldest daughter (aged about 10 at the time) sat upright and demanded "Whats gay mean?"...Ok, so I launched into a beautiful explanation (I kid you not)...I said how daddy and I love each other wll sometimes boys feel that way about boys and sometimes girls feel that way about girls, and as long as no-one is getting hurt anyway it's all good. The wee darling lay back down and said "Oh, Elliot said it meant happy."
    Note to self - always ask why the little 'uns want to know something!! xx

  • At 5:51 am , Blogger Deemer said...

    I like your viewpoint. So much depends on your environment too. Pittsburgh is a blue collar town, old steel town where people are very isolated and not very educated. It was odd that the American version of Queer as Folk took place in Pittsburgh.

    After that I moved to NYC which was an amazing experience. I've never felt people to be more open minded than in nyc but that's just my experience.

    You are right that you learn a lot from meeting people from a varied background, but sometimes the differences also present their own challenges. How have you dealt with that?

  • At 1:17 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Amanda - Good story! And funny that your daughter was so attuned to the "original" meaning of gay!

    Deemer - Yes, I was going to mention Queer as Folk - I saw the first few series and heard various comments from people saying how odd it was that it was set in a place like Pittsburgh (even though the programme is shot in Canada). Given what you've said, the show can't be painting a very realistic picture of the city! Oh well, room for fantasy I guess.

    One day I will go to NYC, I do want to see Christopher Street and all those places. Being a cosmopolitan city like London I can imagine it's more accepting although I'm sure there are dodgy, less welcoming areas like Queens (rather ironic given the name) and the Bronx? Am I right or wrong?

    Is the question about differences addressed to me? Yes I think it is! Well, sometimes differences can be tricky things to surmount. I think you have to respect someone else's cultural differences even if you can't automatically relate to them, and vice versa. To give an example (this is maybe a bit facile, I hope not) before he met me, Gustavo hadn't heard of half the television programmes I liked such as Dr Who and so on. It was the same with some music and film. All of these things are my passions, so I found it a bit hard not being able to discuss these things and share my passions with him (unlike some of my friends who I can talk to about this stuff until I'm blue in the face). But equally these were things that were outside his cultural sphere and which he'd never encountered when growing up in Brazil so I couldn't exactly blame him for not knowing about them! Your background shapes your experience.

    Also - just because someone doesn't know about certain things doesn't mean they can't be taught or can learn! That doesn't mean they're always going to like these things, but you can try. It's like learning another language I suppose. For instance, Gustavo now quite likes Torchwood, even though he's not in Dr Who especially!

    Well, you get the analogy don't you?!

    For me the one most challenging difference of all is someone's else's hatred or narrow-mindedness, particularly homophobia. Some cultures and religions e.g. Islam are very anti-gay. Kids are raised to believe that homosexuality is a sin and this belief system becomes imbedded into their persona. How do you change that?

  • At 9:56 pm , Blogger Deemer said...

    Well as for nyc, it has a strange geography--ie. Manhatten is very gay friendly but gay people are localized in certain neighborhoods. The outer boroughs are not as open but gay people are localized all over--especially queens.

    As for homophobia and religion that is a big conversation. Here in the US if you go to any conservative area you will meet Christians who believe 100% that homosexuality is a sin. The Islamic religion doesn't really say a whole lot on the topic. In Pakistan one could argue that anti-gay laws were set in place by the british colonists and have thus lasted. You could also argue that in Islamic countries homosexuality is still regarded as a disease. This was also true in America until 1973 and in France until 1981. This represents a major change for homosexuals--one that has not occurred in many parts of the world. We are talking about a fairly recent history. There are so many factors involved. When I came out to some muslim friends a couple years ago I was surprised by the response. The ones that were born in the US and have lived here all their lives turned out to be less accepting than those that had come recently from Pakistan and were also on face value more religious. Does that make any sense?

    Religion has many interpretations. Don't accept some close minded people's views taint your view of an entire group.

  • At 9:57 pm , Blogger Deemer said...

    I also appreciated your comments about differences--but will have to comment on it some other time. ( :


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