Preparations for the Campaign for Homosexual Equality’s first annual conference are now well underway. And it promoses to be a genuinely exciting and stimulating weekend. For one thing, it has been extremely well and thoroughly thought out — people started working on it more than six months ago. There will be the usual conference platforms — discussion of major papers (already available), talk-ins, brains trusts and, for the evenings, a heady social programme.
The background to the conference exposes a by-now familiar story of petty hypocrisy and back tracking. This time by Morecambe Corporation. Naturally, CHE half-expected a few rejection slips when letters were written to the well-known conference towns. But Morecambe made it clear that it was willing to have the conference there. “Should you decide to visit our resort you may be assured of our every assistance to make your conference a success”, said a letter to CHE last April. And in July the feeling was still good. “I am sure we can be helpful to you to make your conference a success, as we have the necessary facilities here,” gushed the Corporation.
But then, by September, the climate had changed. Suddenly CHE would not be welcome in Morecambe. The application had been rejected because “the conference would be split into small groups and we have not sufficient accommodation of this type” said the town’s Publicity Committee to the Morecambe Guardian. All this after a five-member delegation from CHE had visited the town and been shown the accommodation and conference facilities and agreed they were fine.
Curious mis-statements follow and the upshot was that CHE decided to hell with Morecambe Corporation. They would have the conference there anyway, but by negotiating directly with the owners of the pier to hire the facilities privately. Which means that CHE is footing a bill which the More-Combe Corporation would have met had any other organisation in the entire world sought the hospitality of this Lancashire seaside resort.
And so the Campaign for Homosexual Equality has been forced into a position of blatant inequality. But, instead of creeping away to find somewhere else, CHE is at least defying Morecambe Corporation – even though the gesture badly strains already heavily committed financial resources.
The conference itself will be the first truly national grassroots conference in the history of the Homophile movement. There have been other gay conferences, but small 5nes, consisting usually of authority figures who have, between them tended to decide what should be done for gays, not without experience and not without interest, but without consultation. At this conference, everyone has an equal voice.
The three main papers for discussion are: The law and the homosexual – which deals in considerable detail with this complex and often imperfectly understood area; the future of the homophile movement in Britain – which is certain to create some healthy disagreement; and a paper on gay life-style which asks a few questions that some people may find, perhaps, contentious.
Great emphasis will be placed on discussing the position of gay women regarding gay organisations – by women themselves, of course – and individual members and groups of CHE are already fielding some good motions for discussion.
The registration fee for the conference is 50p, even though the whole event will be more costly to CHE than it need be, and any members of CHE or the Scottish Minorities Group can attend. It is hoped that as many people as possible will make a special effort to go along to Morecambe. The dates are April 6-7-8.
Roger Baker, Press Officer
Campaign for Homosexual Equality
The annual reorganisation of CHE’s National Executive Committee happened by a democratic election using the single transferable vote system. New members on the EC are Jackie Forster, Editor of Sappho magazine and familiar blockbuster at Speakers Corner; Denis Nadin who created CHE’s churches group, and Peter Naughton, chairman of CHE’s group in Enfield.
Four members sought re-election and those successful were Allan Horsefall, chairman of CHE (who captured the majority vote); Ted Clapham, a Baptist minister and Michael Stead who has done more for CHE than any other individual. Concern has been expressed in some quarters because Bernard Greaves, of Gay Cambridge, was not re-elected. It does seem a shame that Bernard’s political acumen, personal courage and hard work have passed unrecognised by the voting membership.
For the sake of the record, the other members of the EC are: Glenys Parry, Liz Stanley, Ike Cowan, Martin Stafford, Tony Ryde (Vice-Chairman) and Peter Norman.
The blurb gives the impression that we might just be in for another of those tacky gay novels rooted in no particular reality and featuring our good friends, Torment, Despair and Misery. Not so. This is an amusing, sensitive and gracefully constructed exploration of a young man’s sexuality. The young man is Keiron Dorrity, a hard-drinking, heavy womanising Merchant Seaman, very attractive and with, among other things, a fascinating tattoo.
His ship has blown up, somewhere in the Far East, and he is now recuperating in a London convent. He is, also, an aspiring writer and a story he types (based on a true story told to him by a ship mate) is bought by a gay magazine. This leads Keron into a world of high-class rent, known as escorting, apparently.
See what I mean? Sounds tacky. But this brief summary does not take into account the width of Keiron’s vision. The novel is cast in the form of a private journal he keeps. Into it crowd the many layers of his life; the nuns – happy, amusing, the world of the handsome, expensive young men – projected with a disarming bonhomie. Madigan really projects the all-boys-together feeling with which the hustling guardsmen keep at bay the threat of homosexuality proper. These are the stories that Keiron writes, and the poems. There are, then, levels of writing from straight forward narrative to attempts at purple prose; but always a sharp eye, a neat image, an ear for dialogue.
Keiron decides that homosexuality is something rather more than what you do with your body. “If it’s a single act, then yes, sure, I am. If it’s a hundred acts, I am – but if it’s an attitude of mind them I wouldn’t say so…” The mature widow of his ship mate and a fascinating young American boy force the division of mind wider. Lots of action (some sexy) lots of fun (some sexy) and a deal of thought. A neat piece of work, to be recommended.
First published, with great noise, in 1971 and this is the third paperback reprint. A winner then. And not without reason. It’s a really thoroughly exciting thriller about the OAS’s final plot to assassinate General de Gaulle. A top professional assassin from outside France is hired to do the job and since no one knows the identity of this killer, or anything about him it might seem foolproof. The story works on two levels: the plans of the killer and the way in which he is tracked down. The detail is incredible, thoroughly researched and convincingly delivered. Mr Forsyth seems to cheat in several places – especially the climax. But with two heroes (the killer and Lebel the policeman) both of whom have maximum reader identification the suspense as they say is killing.
It is very hard to see what useful purpose this slight (and ludicrously overpriced) book serves. Mr Harris certainly tackles a difficult subject about which little is actually known, but about which much is conjectured. In the event he provides remarkably little information with which either to confirm or destroy our wildest conjectures. He seems to take no particular moral standpoint. This seems like praiseworthy objectivity until one notices how words like ‘corruption’, ‘deviant’ and ‘straight world’ creep in, all indicative of a certain attitude which would be better if properly expressed. And while his book is clearly destined to appear on mail-order lists and in the windows of shops like Sterlings, Mr Harris will disappoint those who wish vicariously to feed their buy-a-boy fantasies.
A grant from the Ninevah Trust enabled Mr Harris to work full-time on his research, so obviously he comes across, or trips full-length over, certain extremely relevant ideas and material which he either relegates to an aside, or avoids thinking about. And his field of operation is certainly too narrow for the breadth of his comments.
The field of operation is precisely enough stated: “Male prostitution on Piccadilly”. Sounds exciting until one realises just how limited this is (not to say inaccurate, since it is one corner of Piccadilly Circus and a few cafes, arcades and clubs in Soho he is talking about, certainly not the elegant stretches between Fortnums and Green Park).
So what it boils down to is that our researcher has got to know a few hustlers who hang over the meat rack at the end of the Quadrant, has talked to them, gained a certain degree of confidence and written it all down. The form of the book is apparently logical starting with how boys become hustlers, moving through aspects of the game to leaving the Dilly. Clearly there is little enough to say about this particular group of boys as such and consequently we get some really vague pseudo-sociological comment and real cop-outs like this: “The world of the boys to a large extent revolves around sex where human nature and human desires are seen in all their varied manifestations, the grotesque, the sadistic, the masochistic and, some venture to say, the sublime’.
I mean, really!
This is just romantic guff. Some thirteen years ago Simon Raven published an essay The Male Prostitute In London in Encounter. Harris’s worried, worthy tone is, of course, a stranger to Raven who accepts and smiles knowingly over his brandy. But in that comparatively brief essay, Raven packs in exactly the same information and, indeed, the same conclusions. And the entertainment value is, naturally, much greater. Consider Harris on the clients, offering us mysterious and vague information about men with one leg and someone with a fetish for hair. Consider Raven on clients: “…the clients wear one face only, a face which can never change. For it is the face of a currency note, always as beautiful, however faded and wrinkled, as when dew-fresh from the Mint.” Harris knows this and says it in many strangulated ways.
But if he is seriously going to describe the motivation of the man who seeks a male whore then he has got to do much better than his few random quick sketches.
Actually, as one reaches the end of the book one begins to wonder whether Mr Harris has been writing about male prostitutes at all. “It is my contention that the values of the Dilly boys are an extension of the values inherent in the larger society, only carried to a further extreme. The boys want a greater share of the goods produced by society but are corrupted by their situation.”
So what has happened really is that we have been reading about a few young lads, all of whom seem to have left homes in Scotland or the industrial midlands, found themselves rootless and homeless in central London and have tumbled to an unorthodox way of earning some money. Which is maybe why Mr Harris is vague on the two basic subjects – prostitution and homosexuality. He never seems to be regarding his boys as male prostitutes at all, but as a small (very small) section of a certain class of youngsters. This seems to me to be issue-evading.
On the question of the homosexuality of both boys and clients, Mr Harris is always ambiguous. He makes a major point of what he calls the code of conduct which consists of doing, and not doing, certain sexual things: it seems that cock-sucking is all right, but that anal intercourse is all wrong. This code is a self-protective device to enable the boys (and sometimes the clients) to assure themselves that they are not really gay at all. We hear, for example, of a newcomer to the game who allowed himself to be fucked several times before his peers informed him that this wasn’t done.
Yet we are never actually told what does go on in the hotel bedrooms, smart flats and dingy rooms that the pairs hive off to, And one wonders if, in fact, Mr Harris himself has not accepted the code too much at face value. With such a paucity of evidence on the subject it is impossible to establish the facts of the matter. And this book should do precisely that, not leave one wondering.
We also learn nothing about the physical self-perception of the boys. This too is important (if one is writing about male prostitutes, that is). How clean they are; are special efforts made to present themselves as fresh and attractive; how much of their earnings do they spend on clothes/cosmetics (ie talc, aftershave, shampoo etc); what about crabs and VD? If in fact these are low priorities (we are told that when the boys do score it is almost compulsive that they spend their cash quickly and Mr Harris only hints at beer, coffee and pin tables) then it kind of devalues some of his other suggestions that part of the appeal of the boys is their fresh youth.
“The excessive premium most homosexuals tend to place on youthfulness enhances the I attraction of the boys for the customers who come from all strata and classes in society”. Now there is a deal of truth in this, but also a deal of misapprehension. I don’t think I would agree that most homosexuals place an excessive premium on youthfulness. And though I know that an unlovely, middle-aged woman might well be a successful prostitute and an unlovely middle-aged can’t be, it remains true that hets about town do gravitate towards those cat houses where the girls are young and lovely. And if, as I feel, the boys are undernourished, scruffy and dirty, then the remark about youthfulness seems irrelevant. Mr Harris seems to have just about the usual tolerant/understanding type views of gayness, but again, the above statement implies that the clients are all homosexual. I think this is a dubious assumption. There are many possible reasons why a man who perceives himself (and who Mr Harris perceives) as conventionally straight might buy a boy. (I am aware that since the contact is that of two males then in actual terms it is a homosexual one). And I would suggest that bi-sexuality is one of them; also the feeling that infidelity on a fleeting level with a bought boy is less dangerous to the psyche than direct infidelity with a woman.
If one is looking for well-researched facts, one isn’t going to find ammunition here. I was continually reminded of Laud Humphrey’s Tearoom Trade. Bearing in mind that Humphrey’s methods were possibly ethically suspect, he nevertheless faced his subjects fearlessly and drew some conclusions that were very useful indeed, especially relating to the meaning, and the incidence, of casual male sexual contact among men not regarded as homosexual.
The implications of male prostitution itself are hardly dealt with here – that is the deeply anti-social concept that a man should sell his sex which is conventionally the exclusive priority of the female. Consideration of this would be far more useful than trite remarks about people wanting more than their fair share of the world’s goods.
That hustlers are street people essentially is another interesting aspect, implied but never thought out. This book does accept this idea and there are passages that indicate clearly the sort of bonding between people who live on their wits and in the streets. But one feels this is accidental.
Here and there some useful points are made. That the laws now relating to homosexuality confuse everyone, for example. And that – as opposed to the case of the female prostitute – in the case of male prostitution it is the client that would be charged, not the hustler. It is also made clear that though boys are occasionally busted it is never for soliciting, but for other reasons – drugs perhaps, or petty crime. And Harris also makes a firm statement about corruption when he writes: “Boys are not coerced or compelled to submit to the advances of an adult. There is great doubt whether there is such a thing as corrupting a minor, and most of the boys who are sought, themselves seek.”
This may be the sort of thing some of us would like to hear, but like everything else in the book, it must be taken cautiously. No doubt that once on the game, this is true. But earlier Mr Harris does demonstrate how easy it is to get on the game and indeed how some boys do so almost accidentally (that is, accepting offers of hospitality from strange men without realising the implications). If this experience leads to an awareness of an easy way to make a living, then that could be argued as a sort of compulsion.
Writing in The Times last month, a woman police sergeant of the Juveniles Squad which operates in Soho, had this to say:
“If they are young lads (ie absconders, missing children) men will start speaking to them, take them back to their homes and be nice to them. These boys are usually naive, and often accept. The man demands something more of them. Eventually, they put these lads on the streets as male prostitutes, and they give the men part of their earnings. Their ages range from 14 upwards. Many of these boys end up as permanent homosexuals…”
The WPS must know what she’s talking about, but her evidence has no support in Mervyn’Harris’s book; in fact he makes a point that the boys insist on their independence, and freedom of operations. (One might also wonder, in passing, how a young woman of 24 can be so definite in her statement that many boys end up as “permanent homosexuals”.) In his final chapter, Harris gives pretty strong indications that the boys, when they have left the Dilly “come to some sort of terms with the world as they grow into adulthood and drift back into the straightworld.” Simon Raven drew a similar conclusion in his view of the street hustler.
The book is easy to read and occasionally entertaining; but it never arouses anger, pity or fear. And its information will only be new to those who never realised that male prostitution existed in the first place. No index; books mentioned in the text but no bibliography.
I believe I am right in suggesting that this is the first book on homosexuality to be published in this country that is the work of an insider. Our bibliographies have tended to begin with Bryan Mageee and D.J. West who. inevitably, took the view of outsiders not so much looking in (such empathy is beyond them) but rather, subjecting homosexuality and the homosexual to the sort of detached examination that reinforces divisions whereby the homosexual is seen as abnormal. There are other books, essays, papers. But always written from a standpoint that sets the homosexual against the writer’s accepted values which, when not psychiatric, tend to be the product of a male-dominated, heterosexual-emphasised culture.
So the first thing to enjoy (and I do mean enjoy: it strikes me as a very joyful book) is Altman’s tone. His natural acceptance of himself and of all gay people is refreshing. This sense of liberation informs all he has to say: for him the homosexual needs no justification, no excuse and of course, no special pleading – that besetting sin of most British writers, straight and gay, on the subject.
So to say that Altman has written a book “on homosexuality” is inexact. In the course of it he examines theories of causation and related attitudes, but this is a part only of a much larger intention which is to define the new self-awareness of homosexuals and to discuss its implications both for gays themselves and for society as a whole. His own experience has been predominantly in America so it is in that context he writes: but it is clear that the pressures on gay people and the resultant secretive, straight-gay scene there is not so very different from that here. It does seem though, that the gay liberation movements in America are far more together, and far more potent (both internally and externally) than those in this country.
Dennis Altman is 27; he graduated from the University of Tasmania, became a lecturer at New York University and is now a lecturer on American politics at the University of Sydney. “Bring an academic and a movement together and one produces a book”, he comments in the introduction.
Academic disciplines are apparent in every paragraph; not merely in the tremendous range of Altman’s reading (there is a most useful bibliography), but in his ability to extrapolate and bring together information and facts from disparate sources, and in his general cool which results in a rational, firm, but never overstated approach. And the bleaker side of academic writing is missing; the dryness, the dullness, the arrogance, the lack of humour. If nothing else (and its a lot else) this book is always an entertaining, enticing read.
I think this is because a lot of experiential autobiography is present. Altman seems continually to be testing his information against himself and his own experience. This means no dogmatic statements and a touching honesty when he comes up against something he hasn’t quite got himself tv gether on. Were the book an attempt to make a massive, final statement this would be a weakness. As it is, it’s a strength. Dennis Altman doesn’t quite know yet how to relate to transvestites and transsexuals; so instead of blundering along he draws on statements from STAR and Red Butterfly and adds his own tentative ideas. This has the important effect of throwing the issue back at the reader, thus making him work too.
It is not my intention here to placate the lazy by digesting Dennis Altman’s thesis and trying to encapsulate his ideas. For this is a book which must be read by everybody. And I hope it will not be read only by those who have already talked, thought and absorbed a lot on the subject of homosexual liberation. Because to them quite a lot of the book, especially the opening phases, is going to come like old news. Altman’s analysis of oppression and detail of the schizophrenic life-style foisted on gays has been made before. What is new, and good news, is that here it is followed to its ultimate conclusion and stated in full without the aggression of a manifesto.
I was looking for something to quote. I have pencilled some fifty-five passages. Here’s one:
The essence of gay liberation is that it enables us to come out… Those who are touched by the new affirmation discover a new perception of how they have been oppressed by society and social norms, and out of this realisation comes both peace with oneself and anger at the victimisation that we and others have suffered… For the homosexual, the new affirmation involves breaking away from the gay world as it has traditionally existed and transforming the pseudo-community of secrecy and sexual objectification into a genuine community of sister/brotherhood…”
Which comes from the conclusion in which Altman posits the end of the homosexual. In essence I think it sums up the tone, the attitude and the message of this excellent piece of work.
Mr Stafford felt it necessary, therefore, to give an explanation of his actions. His memorandum was circulated to local groups of CHE and to delegates of CHE’s National Council (which will be reported in Gay News 14).
He writes: “I am convinced that the Gay Liberation Front and all bodies and publications of a similar persuasion are a potent menace to the cause which I embrace and a hindrance to the realisation of ends which I – and no doubt most other people in CHE -esteem desirable. For let us be quite clear about this: GLF, by the outlandish appearance of many of its adherents, by the lunatic extravagance of its professed aims, and by the blatant indecency of its publications, makes social acceptance and further law-reform less probable, not more so; since almost everything which it does, says, and is – far from dispelling prejudice and assuaging potential sympathisers confirms all their gravest apprehensions that homosexuals are freakish perverts … etc etc etc”.
He continues: “… there is absolutely nothing in GLF or Gay News with which any person who held a position of responsibility or who had any concern to maintain his own good name and reputation would wish, or could afford, to be identified, however erroneously”.
Still linking GLF and Gay News together, he believes they give an impression of homosexuality as misleading as that offered by Dr Reubens. He urges CHE to “disassociate itself from all jargon-happy idiots and to renounce their theories as mistaken; their recommendations as impracticable.”
He writes: “I therefore took the view, by which I abide, that any lawful means of eliminating this menace was justified, and proceeded to conspire its ruin.”
After a further paragraph of attack on GLF and Gay News during which he suggests that in himself homosexuals will see they have “at least some spokesmen fit to plead their cause” and also that “some homosexuals have the sense to reject the idle pretentions of revolutionary fanaticism”, he concludes by asserting his intention of remaining on the Executive Committee of CHE “until 1975, or at least until it suits me to leave.” And ends: “The role I play can not, alas, be a very constructive one (sic) but perhaps a restraining influence is not altogether without value.”
At CHE’s National Council, delegates having read Mr Stafford’s hysterical memorandum (for those of us with less intelligence than that Mr Stafford claims to possess found the path from a cartoon of Lord Longford to the “idle pretensions of revolutionary fanaticism” a little difficult to follow), proceeded to give the little fellow a severe trouncing. He sat it out with his usual cool and it was only later in the day that he delighted his fans with one of his celebrated stamping performances.
Mr Stafford told the council that Gay News should be suppressed and “all its shallow and immature gestures eliminated” since it confirms all the worst impressions of homosexuals that people already possess.
A delegate from London (Kensington group) pointed out that Mr Stafford’s action was entirely antagonistic to all the law reforms CHE seeks because he represents himself as a spokesman who wishes to impose restrictions. “He has done everybody a grave disservice”, concluded Peter to loud applause.
The chairman of London’s Putney group remarked that for a homosexual to “recommend that heterosexuals should take legal action against homosexuals was utterly abhorrent”.
The chairman of the Brighton group, speaking with controlled anger, said that Mr Stafford’s action was outrageous in itself, but his “arrogant explanation has added fuel to the fire; the excuse that he is speaking only for himself is rubbish”, said John, “until now Martin Stafford has been a joke. But unless he is removed he will become a menace”.
It was a delegate from London (group 1) who rose to associate himself with Martin Stafford. In a peculiarly confused speech he insisted that he “strongly associated himself with Gay News and had even renewed his subscription. Yet when he saw the relevant cartoon “I was shocked, I thought it in gross bad taste”. Clearly the concept that merely being shocked by something is reason to try and get it prosecuted in the most punitive way, still exists.
Finally two resolutions were put before the Council. The first, from the Croydon delegate, said: “This council disassociates itself from the action of Martin Stafford over Gay News and deplores that a member of the Executive Committee should consider such an action”. Three people voted against this.
The second, put by Bernard Greaves of Cambridge said: “This Council welcomes Gay News‘s existence, applauds its editorial independence and thanks it for its contribution to the homophile cause while not necessarily agreeing with everything contained in it”. Again an overwhelming show of agreement with two votes against.
Martin Stafford embodies all the negative, depressive, death-dealing qualities of the acutely self-repressed homosexual. It is most unfortunate that he has acquired a position on the National Executive Committee of CHE. He admits he will not support his colleagues ard states he will always try to act as “a restraining influence.” His efforts at restraint have hitherto only been exercised within CHE and, while acutely disturbing, have had no relevance to the gay community at large. But in this case he has moved outside CHE to attack (in what is potentially the most vicious way) the efforts of another group of people (homosexual and heterosexual, unaligned to any organisation) to bring those much needed elements of contact, communication and information to both gay and straight communities.
Whenever Martin Stafford goes on one of his anti-life rampages, he falls back on the fact that he was elected to the Executive Committee of CHE this year with a majority. “Ten months ago the voting figures confirmed beyond all dispute that my views command considerable support; for after submitting myself to election on a question of confidence I was returned to the EC, not only at the top of the poll, but by a very impressive lead.”
This reads well. However it must be pointed out (as indeed the vice-chairman of CHE, Tony Ryde, did point out at the council) that Martin Stafford won 95 outright votes at the election, less than 10 votes ahead of his nearest rival. Out of a potential electorate of about 2,500 at this time, this is less than considerable, certainly not impressive. These facts, of course, only reflect on the inertia or lack of interest of CHE’s membership at large in electing their representatives. It also means that the other members of the Executive Committee are in the same position. However, it must be remembered that the other members of the EC are aware of this and only act after collective agreement and do not go off on individual rampages claiming a massive, but mythical, support.
ED: We repeat again and again and again – Gay News is linked in no way whatsoever with any organisation.
Christmas is a lonely time for many gays. Yes. But let’s not get too self-indulgent yet awhile. Christmas is a lonely time for lots of other people too. It’s a lonely time for the very old who have outlived, become separated from, or ignored by their families. It’s a lonely time for the divorced, the widowed, for those men and women who just don’t happen to have got married. It’s a lonely, bleak time in institutions. It can be a lonely time in the family circle when the ring of faces is only made bright by the reflected glow of a television show canned before the leaves fell from the trees. Sometimes the cruelty of Christmas seems to outweigh the sweetness of its message.
Cruelty? Because instead of bringing peace on earth and goodwill to men, Christmas merely underscores alienations that during the rest of the year are either submerged or easier to tolerate. Not just between gay and straight, but between young and old, attached and unattached, blood and water. Of course, Christmas is supposed to serve a precisely opposite function and much time is spent at this time of year paying lip-service to this myth from the fatuous rhymes in cards and the banalities of Victorian hymns (mistakenly called carols) to the whole carapace of empty phrases that emanate from Canterbury, Rome and Windsor.
Christmas is a time when barriers are generally reinforced, not melted. We are reminded of the less fortunate, the weak, the sick, the distressed and perhaps some people are stirred enough to buy cards from a charity and thus ameliorate the minor stab of guilt. But compared with the money lavished on unspeakable toys, on aggressive displays of illuminated decorations for the streets, on advertising displays for commonplace cigarettes packed in tinsel, a fiver on cards for multiple sclerosis is tokenism of the worst kind.
Why just at Christmas? Multiple sclerosis exists the year round. Why pancakes (which are nice) on one day only; why bonfires (which are nice) on one day only? We jump like rats to a bell and shake out our required responses when required, then wrap them up and put them away until next time. Christmas builds barriers.
Also it promotes a wholly unreasonable selfishness, rationalised into ‘it only comes once a year’ (hear the bell?) or ‘we’re only doing it for the kiddies, have another gin-and-tonic’. Is there any wonder that half the population dread Christmas when the other half is ruthlessly enclosing itself in an impregnable cocoon of self-indulgence. The rich man stay’s at his table and the poor man is forever at the gate.
Is there any wonder that the suicide rate rises quite sharply during the Christmas period. Psychiatrists who, of course, once they have detected a phenomenon must instantly explain it, sought a reason for this suicide increase. It was suggested that the central figure of Christmas, the Christ-child, is a symbol of unattainable perfection and that when faced with this concept many individuals become acutely aware of their own imperfections, their own failures and are thus brought towards a suicidal state.
It’s my guess that they feel so bloody rejected and alienated, so fed up with seeing lights behind windows, so put-down by the relentless cash-bang of the High Street that oppressions felt during the rest of the year, but handled, rise sharply to the surface and get trapped in the cul-de-sac of the mind.
But the symbolism of Christmas is potent, complex and reaches far into the unconscious. It asserts certain standards, certain patterns of behaviour and certain ways of life, projected as ideal but rarely questioned.
In the west it is impossible to escape the influence of the myths; so impossible that the idea of escape never occurs. Christmas has undoubtedly inspired some of the greatest painting and music the world knows. But whether it is projected through Messiah or through a clumsy message picked out in cotton wool on the shopwindow, the assumptions remain the same. Christmas ecapsulates the systems of society which, of course, utterly reject the homosexual who is left kicking on the edges of the festival trying desperately to find a way in.
The central tableau is a family scene, the prototype, if you like, of the nuclear family, a single consumer unit given its consumer goods in the form of gold and frankincence and myhrr. The concept of the family is central, is firm, is essential. But the Holy Family is a strange one with a father who is not a father, and a mother who remains a virgin. So we have, in one image, one of basic contradictions – an assertion of procreation, of new and hopeful life linked with a complete repression of sexuality and sexual love.
How do gay women relate to the Virgin Mary? Talking around one gathers that many lesbians have a strong need for children, yet reject the essential male interaction. AID is a strong subject.
The imagery goes further with a statement of social division, not unity. Consider the attendants on the scene: the shepherds and the magi. The proletariat and the establishment. They meet in common worship in a stable. But they remain divided, their roles are set and the unity of common worship is a sleight of hand designed to suggest an equality that never exists. Paul sent the converted slave back to his master, still a slave.
This concept is a meaningless gesture that has been chucked around through the centuries. It has been revived in the plays dedicated to Moral Re-armament where industrial disputes are settled by shop stewards and management finding a common faith -which is about as relevant to strikes as everyone patronising the same tailor.
All these things are implicit all the time, but are asserted in strength at this time of the year. As I suggested earlier, it isn’t just gay people who are lonely at Christmas, but those who feel lonely and bereft at Christmas but are not gay, do at least have in-built defenses to sustain themselves against this barrage of conformity. They know they have the potential to take part in this festival of family and capitalism.
The gay person has no such defenses. At this time of year if he or she is at all sensitive then they must see themselves as alone and quite outside the structure everyone else seems to be celebrating. I said earlier that gay people were trying to Find a way in. Such is conditioning. Is it something one wants to find a way into? Even those gays who remorselessly claim that there is no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals must, at this time, realise, somewhere, that this is too simplistic a view.
For sex (what you do in bed) is repressed out of the Christmas story and the root of homosexual alienation at this time must be sought elsewhere. Sex is irrelevant. The homosexual just doesn’t fit into the way society works and that’s that. And Christmas brings this home with force.
There are two things that gay people can do about this situation. One is already being done. That is – to get together over Christmas. Both GLF and CHE are having open parties and encouraging those gays who are physically alone at this time to get together for the holiday: “Not necessarily on a sexual basis, just brothers and sisters seeking a friendly and warm relationship”, as GLF’s newsletter so neatly expresses it.
The second thing is less easy. And that is to acquire an attitude of mind, a way of thinking in which Christmas and the terrible strictures it implies upon the gay community becomes irrelevant, where the images have no power to hurt and reject. To reach a stage where there is no need to find a way in because it isn’t worth getting in to; where the gay alternative is better and more rewarding. And not just for a week at the end of December, but all the year round.
Food comes slightly after sex and just ahead of the music of Purcell in my list of favourite things. I read cookery books like novels and occasionally cook like a novelist. But I suppose I have always regarded food from a sensuous point of view, certainly not from a social, political or economic standpoint. Until that is, I read this book called Technological Eating, by Magnus Pyke. It was published in February, is slim (107pp) and quite expensive (£2.50). But it is truly mind-bending in that it bends the thought into all sorts of directions, not all intimately connected with food.
Dr Pyke is President of the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the United Kingdom, but before pelting him with slings of rehydrated potatoes and spun-protein steaks consider his thesis. His book is really about the way in which technology affects social behaviour and he believes (and most surely demonstrates) that by discussing oven-ready chickens and fish fingers we can learn more about what technology is doing than by thinking about communication satellites or nuclear power-stations. This is one reason why his book is so good, so readable, his examples and subject-matter are everyday things that we all have intimate experience of.
He is saying, quite simply, that the application of technology to food is breaking down all hitherto accepted social structures; food becomes increasingly distanced from man. The only possible provenance for a fish finger is a factory, so where do dietary laws come in? Technology is a divisive influence
in society and he compares the fragmentation of Western industrial communities with the coherence of the extended family system “in which claim to quite distant cousinship is a valid title to food, shelter and support”.
I recommend this book for its facts – did you know that a large American engineering firm had devised a lettuce harvesting machine that picks up four rows at once. It is so efficient that only 600 machines would be needed to harvest all the lettuces in the world. The engineering firm is reluctant to manufacture it.
I recommend this book for its ability to move thought from big, unmanageable concepts towards simple, everyday experience that has a greater effect.
I recommend this book for its humanity, wit, sense and eventual optimism, for its sharp criticism of our consumer-conscious society fixed on acquisition and money value.
A pamphlet is currently circulating around London called The Monday Club: a danger to British Democracy. It is an exposure of this ultra-right-wing group and makes for far from delightful reading. It names names, makes accusations and unearths unsavoury details about the private lives of many well-known Monday Club members and supporters. It is highly libellous, which is, presumably, why it lacks the names of author, printer or publisher.
One particularly interesting section is headed: Fairies at the Bottom of Their Garden and begins: “The homosexual aspect is vital if one is to investigate the intrigue that is going on in and around the Monday Club.”
It continues: “A Poetry Society covered some of these activities and involved a man … who has been in trouble with the police for his gay behaviour. … (he) is far better known as one of the leaders of the one-time Revolutionary Communist Party. Today, this man is able to mix amongst Conservatives, including Members of Parliament, because of his gay friends and now Right-wing political associates.
“It is always observed that homosexuals are bad security risks as they are open to blackmail and other forms of pressure. Certainly it would appear that those Right extremists in the Monday Club are seeing that homosexuals are being placed in positions where they can be influenced at a later date.”
There is a distinct possibility that CHE may soon be able to form a local group in Dublin. This is the result of a visit made there by one CHE member, Allan Crossley, during which he contacted The Irish Times, the Samaritans and an already existing homophile group.
The established group is called The Legion of Mary and is described as “an apostolic organisation aiming to achieve the personal sanctification of all its members”. The group has about 50 contacts, and its leaders (both married men with families) agreed that not all homosexuals who came into contact with them could accept their approach and methods, especially if they did not wish any involvement with the church. The group accepted CHE literature which has been distributed to members.
All Irish newspapers have refused to mention this group and have refused to accept any advertisements from it. The Irish Times did, however, publish an interview with Allan (November 21), a short article which, while stating CHE’s aims quite clearly and correctly, lent its emphasis to the fact that ‘buggery’ and ‘gross indecency between males’ are illegal in Ireland. Which indicates that the full implications of being homosexual are completely unknown – to the writer of the article at least. However there is, at the time of writing, a 90% chance that the same newspaper will agree to carry a CHE advertisement on its back page of personal ads.
Allan was also able to give CHE literature and posters to the Dublin Samaritans, and to put the idea into their heads that a speaker on homosexuality might be invited along.