Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My talk from The Queer Forum #2 on 7 December 2014

The Queer Forum is an event that I co-host in Manchester in which people who identify as Queer/LGBT can come and talk to an audience for fifteen minutes or so about anything they like. People have spoken about ACT-UP New York, about their intersectional identity, about life modelling, about dementia, about erotic art and more besides. We also show very short films and we meet new people and we are hoping this event will grow. We are mainly all about the love. At the second Queer Forum event I thought it only right that I give a talk too, rather than just encouraging others to talk, so I wrote this to talk about the very confusing but enlightening year I have had, and some opinions and hopes and some personal anecdotes. I finished by reading an extract from Andrew Holleran's novel Dancer From The Dance which I can't reproduce here but which I recommend everyone reads. Here is my talk:

My name is Greg. I’ve lived in Manchester for eighteen years. I came to University here. I used to work in advertising and publishing. I’m now a freelance writer, a DJ and a club promoter. I’m also an event organiser. I also copyedit academic books and write fiction and reviews. I also do research and writing for artists and art institutions, and for the last six years I’ve written a blog about all of this stuff, and more stuff besides. I am a bit of a jack of all trades, which has as many drawbacks as benefits, but for that reason, and because I enjoy analysis more than conclusion, my talk today, given partly in homage to James McCourt’s book Queer Street, is anecdotal and personal and has several themes and is entitled:

‘Where I am and what I’ve learned and am learning as a queer gay man in the twenty first century’

I am 36 years old. Twelve years I stopped eating meat. Two years ago I got rid of my television and stopped buying newspapers. I am from a working class family who are now middle class because they have a car each, and I am middle class too because I’ve been to University twice and I work in the arts, even though I sometimes struggle to make the rent. I am, like many people, trying to work out what it is that makes me tick, what it is I should do, how to be good, how to be happy, how to contribute.

The Projects
This summer I had a cycling accident. I spent some time in hospital, far from home and delirious with morphine. At one point I thought I could speak Maltese. I had lots of time to think. In the last couple of years, two amazing people who I was lucky enough to know both died very young. Because of these experiences I have decided that if something should happen to me, I don’t ever want to have to say that I regret not doing x, y and z. So instead I have made a list entitled ‘The Projects’, describing all the things that I think I might want to accomplish. Some of them have been long-standing, others are accidental ambitions and are already underway, such as creating a club night, becoming a DJ, getting paid to write, hosting an event like The Queer Forum; some I haven’t tried yet, like stand-up comedy or staging a play; some might never happen at all, like getting my novel published… I just don’t want to have regrets.

Learning about social justice
A lot of my work and my life happens online. I am an enthusiastic user of Twitter and Tumblr and online writing, one of the main reasons being that it keeps me politically conscious and cuts out media bias when listening to other people’s voices. Here are 5 things I am learning online from social justice activists:
1. Racism has never gone away, it has only changed shape as society has changed shape. Capitalism needs racism.
2. The politics of, ‘We will come back for you’ doesn’t work. ‘When we get full marriage rights as gender conforming gay people, and we can adopt children, and we have equal everything else, we promise will make sure that everyone gets the same rights and protection too. We will come back for you.’ It doesn’t work.
3. Learning about your own privilege is vital and enlightening, but how do you use that awareness to help and make a difference? You need to find out.
4. There is an epidemic of violence happening against women worldwide and against poor trans women of colour especially. It isn’t going away.
5.  Social justice doesn’t mean a thing if there’s no clean air to breathe and your town floods and the ocean is poisoned.

Having therapy

When I was 24 I spent a year having therapy. My counsellor was a young lesbian and the message I left on her answering machine, long since erased, was the first time that I had ever said out loud the words, ‘I am gay’. In our first session she asked me to describe what I would like to work through in my therapy. I told her that:
1. I need to deal with the fact my Dad left, and:
2. I’m gay and I don’t want to be gay.
A year later anyone who mattered in my life knew that I was gay. My therapist once said to me, ‘As a lesbian, my sexuality is central to who I am and how I live, and at the same time it’s of absolutely no consequence.’ I had no idea what she meant at the time, but now I do. Everyone should get some therapy.

Why I don’t think Alan Turing should have been pardoned
Alan Turing was a bona fide genius with a singular mind who should have lived a long and productive life, excelling in his many fields. Instead of being allowed to meet this extraordinary potential, he met a guy outside The Dancehouse Theatre on Oxford Road in December 1951 and three months later the two of them were facing prosecution for gross indecency. A little over two years after that, Alan killed himself. A popular campaign succeeded in gaining a Royal pardon for Turing one year ago for the crime of gross indecency. I think this act pardons the State of responsibility for what it did to Alan Turing, rather than pardoning Turing himself. Alan didn’t need a pardon because he never did anything wrong in the first place. If he hadn’t been of use to the State there would have been no petition to start with. The original petition read, ‘This may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well-known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.’ I strongly disagree. Turing’s usefulness to the State singles him out from the countless prosecuted and silenced men who suffered the same fate. I would be so angry to learn that a grandfather of mine had jumped off a bridge for the same reason but wasn’t deemed fit to be pardoned. In December 1952 Alan Turing was a criminal, the State should wear its shame for making him one. If only useful homosexuals get pardoned, I don’t want to be useful.

Having a partner
In 2011 I saw a movie called Weekend. The set design and cinematography of the film was based on the work of a pair of photographers working under the name Quinnford and Scout. Their work set the visual tone of the film and they were also invited to do the set photography, eventually resulting in the film poster image which graces the walls of so many gay men’s bedrooms. The film had a big impact on me, one that I was not ready to deal with. I had decided at some point to no longer make emotional commitments to anyone and for the first few weeks of the film’s release, various gay men, about six of them, with whom I had had some kind of relationship in the preceding years, each messaged me to find out if I had seen the film, and if not they urged me to do so right away as there was a lesson in it that I sorely needed to learn. They were mostly not very kind about it, but I knew exactly what they meant. So, because of the film, I decided to make a change and open my mind to at least the possibility of a relationship, maybe some time in the future. Not long after I made this decision I met a guy named Oisín Share who was one half of the photography duo Quinnford and Scout who had worked on the movie. In March we will have been together for three years. There is a strange synchronicity sometimes to life.

Am I gay or am I queer?
I am very attached to the political, social and cultural history of men who have identified as gay but when I look at anything that is labelled as gay culture today, I feel alienated. My body is wrong, my politics are wrong, I can’t afford anything they advertise, I don’t want anything they advertise, everything is badly designed and nobody wants to talk about books. Thinking queerly helps me to square all of this. Thinking queerly is a way to critique not just gay culture, but all culture, society, capitalism. When I find gay culture threatening or trivial, queer culture says to me to take what I like, give what I can, be something better. Gay is what I am, but queer I think is something closer to who I am.

Thank you.

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