Hubby and I made a jaunt back to London last weekend which turned into one of the best weekends we have had in a long time. We left London in 2011 and then spent the following four years working and travelling. By the time we had left "The Smoke," I could only describe is as "it felt like I had stayed too long at the party." You know what I am talking about, we have all been there. The lights are coming on, the host is cleaning around you and you have no idea there is a little bit of dip on your chin because you still think you look fabulous. I tend to think about places I have lived in terms of parties. New York is that party I never need an invite too. I just show up, there is always someone I know I can talk too. Berlin was like desperately trying to get behind the velvet rope of a club and then wandering around from room to room leaving you exhausted, confused and not sure when daylight happened. Prague was like that house party you are invited to because you know the host and you're not sure if you should go so you make plans to leave after about an hour but you end up having a great time and regret making those other plans because you want to stay a little longer.
Truth be told though, we were done when we left London but we had to leave it to appreciate it again. As you may know from reading my posts, we live in the arse end of nowhere to the left of the end of the world. I joke but the move was good for us as a couple, we have made some amazing friends, and creatively it has been amazing. There is however no denying that the gay scene in Cornwall is virtually nonexistent. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of us down here but there isn't a community or scene comparable to other parts of the country. We find ourselves regularly in Plymouth which is the closest big city to where we live, there is a small scene but it is fun to visit and we have made friends, had some laughs so I'm grateful for the escape it provides.
Back to London though, so right after a lovely morning and afternoon wandering around Camden, we found ourselves at one of our favourite places to go when we go back; Halfway to Heaven. We had read in Boyz or possibly QX that Rose Garden would be there on Saturday afternoon and given that the last time we saw her perform it was at The Gloucester in Greenwich should tell you how long ago that was. We took that as a sign that we had to go. Rose did not disappoint. Her shows can be offensive (purposely), can be crude (hopefully) but always engaging. Now more than ever the necessity to engage is absolute, given what is happening around us. In one segment of her show she asked the crowd what is the most offensive gay slur you have been called. Hubby and I struggled and so did the crowd. I don't know if it's a hardened sense of identity that comes with being out of the closet but I have spent more time out than in at this point in my life and as much as I dislike derogatory language, I don't let the words of ignorant and hateful people get to me anymore. "Like water off a ducks back" as an old housemate of mine would say when anyone was bitchy to him. Most of the times if I hear the word queer or faggot, it is met with an eye roll, slow clap and "wow."
People will always try and get you down no matter what. In my experience perhaps it stems from coming out in the early 90's and embracing drag; remembering the energy of Wigstock (back in the Tompkins Square Park days), but I always found that although you can be put down by a drag queen (for entertainment), it is easier to face the world after a drag show. Drag is an illusion but then so is our safety right now.
Rose had a special guest on her show, a drag artist by the name of Ripley. I had never heard of her before (I refer you back to earlier in this piece when I said where I live) but I am hooked. If you have not seen her, go! Follow her on Facebook (she is on other social media platforms but for the sake of humanity, I am not. I'm kicking it old school on FB), look up when she might be in your local area. Just go! Make sure you see her! Her performance, a mixture of spoken word spliced with music was an attack on Trump, Brexit and the current state of the world. It was a call to arms, set to a lip synching melody that included Cher, Garbage, Donna Summer, Barbara Streisand, Joan Baez and more. It left me feeling invigorated, charged and hopeful that with artists like this performing on the stage, we can and we shall overcome the fuckery of the present state of affairs in this world. It was unapologetically political. Some in the audience were not as keen as others to engage with it but hubby and I loved every moment of it. Our lives are more political these days and you not thinking it is, does not change the fact that it is.
Trump. Brexit. Russia. Mayhem. Le Pen. Wilders. This is no time for complacency in our situation no matter which country you call home. The rights that we have fought for are under threat and until we are able to walk down the street holding our spouses/ partners/ lovers/ friends hands without facing the threat of verbal abuse or worse, violence; we haven't crossed the finished line yet. Don't put the fatigues in the wash just yet.
There is a strength that comes from our history; our counter culture. It is not the nostalgia that the Right have used to justify their prejudice. It is not the nostalgia that was built on the exploitation of the under classes, conveniently forgotten about when reminiscing. It is not the nostalgia for a time that never existed. It is the force of that brick that Marsha P Johnson threw at the police outside The Stonewall Inn on that hot June night in 1969 that said "Enough!" That brick has guided us through the decades, breaking windows, smashing barriers and will continue to lead us towards the equality that is our birthright.
It is not a coincidence that this year the National Theatre in London is performing Angels in America. That Dustin Lance Black's When We Rise is being aired this year. That drag artists are in some cases still performing these songs and in other cases are bringing back the classics from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Cabaret, again is no coincidence. These songs, the times they reflect; they are periods of subversion which are part of our strength. They don't represent a nostalgia of how things were, they are a reminder of where we were, and how far we have come. I wrote a while back about Cabaret, yet again, songs from cabaret find themselves performed on a drag stag. This past weekend was "Maybe This Time."
I do believe the Right will be defeated. I do believe that we will one day have true equality across the spectrum. I believe this because I look at all we have gained in the twenty five years of personal experience and I know that if we can come this far, we will go further. Audrey Lorde once wrote, "your silence will not protect you." She is right. Our complacency will not protect us either. Our rejection of one another will not protect us. Our internalised homophobia will not protect us. Their nostalgia will not protect us. Our nostalgia though holds a concrete reminder of how far we have come. What we have endured. What we have overcome.
We have to embrace that strength. We have to embrace one another. I cannot stress that enough. We have to embrace one another. A rainbow is not majestic or as powerful of a sight without all its colours reflecting boldly.
Each day when I log onto social media, I am reminded of Dorothy Parker's line: "What fresh hell can this be?" I know I am not alone in this. I use Facebook because it allows me to stay in touch with friends all over the world. Trust me, when you live in the middle of nowhere you have no idea how valuable that connection is. I am not on Twitter because truth is, that is a level of insanity that once visited, I am not sure I would return from. Me, a glass of wine, 1am and Twitter is a recipe for disaster.
Today though, my newsfeed reminded me of a few things when this article appeared like a lighthouse in the dark sea of news. How To Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed By Your Newsfeed by Ann Douglas. I don't think there is anything necessarily life shattering about her advice but it was the reminder of what I (and I think many others) need during these tumultuous times. What hooked me was her first suggestion, "Recognize that there's a difference between being immersed and being informed." If I had to describe my recent state of mind, it has been that. It has even led me to not wanting to listen to the radio (a great love of mine) because the news updates are always followed by a loud, "really??" That suggestion also reminded me to make use of my Freedom App. For those unaware of what this is, it allows you to disconnect your internet access for a period of time up to your choosing. It is an app that has carried me to the finish line on many projects and despite being on my desktop, I forget that it is there. I need to make use of it more given that I am so close to completing my collection of short stories. Also that in the last writing course I took with One Story, a few ideas came from the assignments which have given me that kick in the bum I have needed, as well as taken me out of my comfort zone. Watch this space!
The thing is, I think being kind to ourselves is key and sometimes that means taking time away from what is going on. Last week, I decided to put down the books I was reading and escape into a new world. After twenty years of resistance, I finally found myself at Hogwarts. I started reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I know it took me longer than others to get there but I think that was a journey that I needed to take my time with. I won't lie, I'm hooked and it is the perfect distraction from those moments when the news is too much and I just want to curl up somewhere warm, a cuppa (as they say here) and remember what childlike wonder and enthusiasm used to feel like.
The flipside of that is also honouring the events. Last weekend, Sir John Hurt passed away. He was one of hubby and I's favourite actors and so we decided to have a mini Hurt-a-thon, beginning with The Naked Civil Servant, the bio pic based on Quentin Crisp's book of the same name. There is always a controversy within the LGBT community discussing Quentin but I think we can all agree that he was a larger than life figure. That the film was screened on UK television in 1975 makes it one of importance in LGBT history whatever your thoughts on the controversial musings of Quentin Crisp. Moving on from The Naked Civil Servant, we took a dystopian break in 1984. Very topical these days and currently selling faster than it can be kept in print. As much as escape is necessary, there is a danger in becoming an ostrich too. I remember having to read Orwell's masterpiece in high school, and it is one of those books that always stays with you. Contrary to some people's political beliefs, it is not a manual but a warning. If in doubt, I think the film does a great job of hitting that point home. Is real life stranger than fiction? I am not sure I am seeing that much of a difference anymore. We finished our Hurt-a-thon with An Englishman in New York which saw Hurt reprise his role as Quentin Crisp. The film picks up after The Naked Civil Servant with Quentin moving from London to New York. I watched this the first time it aired on television in 2009. The UK was a different country from the one Quentin left behind. Here I was, an American in a Civil Partnership with my Englishman. Marriage equality was still a few years away but things were heading that way. I can only imagine what witty and controversial comments Quentin would have made on the state of events. In re-watching I couldn't stop thinking about the vulnerability that John Hurt brings to this role. We see Quentin as the celebrity du jour who is brought down by his own ill thought out remarks regarding the AIDS crisis. That of course though is not the end of him and after a quiet period, his life and work became of interest again. Sadly for Quentin, as work increased, his health did not and in the greatest irony of his life, he would die in the one country he feared dying in; England.
I'm not one that can totally disengage from the news or from social media but I do think that going forward I will need to find that balance between tuning out and tuning in. For the moment though, back to Hogwarts!
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.