Ball And Chain

Recently, I spent a few days in London after a year’s absence. I am no newcomer to the London gay scene, after having spent seven years as an integral part of it. Yet, over the past year, the totally different way of life, lived in an almost totally different kind of environment, has seeped into me sufficiently for me to be able to look somewhat objectively at the way my gay friends in London live, whilst knowing the scene intimately from the inside.

The London gay scene can be an exciting, colourful world full of people who are either beautiful or interesting; you occasionally meet people who are both. I can remember such people, but fortunately, I only knew them for a few weeks. Being the pessimist I am, I do not intend to extol the wonders of London when there are so many things about it which are bad and prod one’s social conscience to comment upon them.

What I see in the gay scene, (that which I saw in myself over a year ago but fail to see in the majority of non-gay society) is the incessant preoccupation with sex and the constant orientation around gay being, or, we might alternatively say, being gay. It seems that there is a type of gay person whose entire existence revolves around their being gay, and that nothing matters or holds any interest for them other than the possibility of what they might get into bed with next. To me, this myopia is alarming, but to them, I guess, my university intellect is equally horrifying in its universalism and exposure to the overwhelming fullness of the world. Being gay in a gay world, or what sociologists innocently call subculture, is a comfortable security when the rest of society is painfully anti-gay. But when the entire extent of one’s life is limited to cruising and its obsessed mentality, then I think one begins to question the value of comfort and security. I should be able to understand the life of being gay, after all, I was leading it a year ago.

My transcendence into a new way of life was both planned and accidental. Now things are different, I have changed, and I look upon my old experiences almost as if I hadn’t had them. Why? Well, for one thing I have become involved in Gay Liberation since I moved out of London. However, although I have had a lot to do with GLF here, my views differ from those of the protagonists in London. The following, I hope, will illustrate this.

When I sent an article to the editors of Come Together for the special International Gay week edition, they published it but prefaced it with a pictorial comment – the article was called ‘Coming Out for Straight Gays’, and it attempted to analyse the problem of homosexuals sympathetic to the call for liberation, but confronted with some degree of interest in ‘straight’ society. I argued that liberation did not necessarily mean copying the radical feminists and wearing glittering clothes and eye-shadow, since few women do this anyway. Neither did it mean pinning oneself to a label. I reiterated the position I adopted at the GLF Birmingham conference, that with many gays like myself, Gay Lib was just one facet of something bigger and broader and that gay people shouldn’t enclose themselves in the specifically gay struggle for liberation, but should see the person as being part of a non-gay environment trying desperately to integrate with it without being swallowed up in it. Pandemonium ensued; at least from the Rad Fems and others whose brotherly love gave way to the most horrid bitterness of all. I rather suspect that the editors who prefaced my article with a picture of a ball and chain manacled to a boot were in the same frame of mind as those who castigated me at Birmingham. The point of contention was, in the last analysis, this: those that demand a change in one’s whole life in order to achieve liberation in their gay being are, I conject, those who are completely immersed in being gay and lead a totally gay existence. Those, like me who have a part to play in the non-gay world and are only gay in bed, can’t be doing with a total change in their whole lives.

Well, are my views such that they make me manacled to a ball and chain? Can I achieve liberation by attempting to integrate with straight society even though I don’t agree with it? My policy is ‘yes, integrate to liberate’. What we need to change is not only ourselves, and that on the inside, not on the eye-makeup side, but society as well. Read your manifestos you GLF people, and on page 7 it mentions a ‘revolutionary change in our whole society’. That includes us, but the change must be in our heads, deep inside our personalities in fact. The drag-fanatics have not quite found out what that means yet. If it is question time, then let’s also ask whether the liberationists are not also manacled to their own ball and chains, simply because they never concern themselves with the outside world and all its other oppressions.

Like the scene people, the professional liberationists are, to my perspective, over-involved in being gay. This distorts their understanding of how society oppresses them and what they have to do to liberate themselves from its oppression.Their rejection of the straight world (without being part of it) makes them suspicious and critical of me when I purport to move between gay and straight ways of life with an easy conscience. I can appreciate that gay being means security, as much as I understand that one does not want to be integrated with a sick society, one that gives males privilege and dominance over women, children and gays; but I do not drop-out of the straight world altogether, simply because you have got to fight it from within – and because one does not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

There are some good points about straight society but the liberationists seem to deny this.

In my Come Together article, I admitted to having a vested interest in the world which oppresses me – that was simply a paradoxical way of saying that so long as I remain straight in the street and gay in bed I can be left alone to lead a quiet comfortable life and suffer the oppression of being taunted behind my back and denied any equality with other people. That is precisely where the straight-gays and the closet-queens stand; it is the difficult, disheartening position of those who want to be or must be involved in straight society, and who don’t go to gay pubs and don’t cruise physically or mentally. So, when liberation and coming out are suggested one gets into a very difficult position. What are we to liberate ourselves from and into? If it’s the answer given by the present generation of London GLF, then I for one am quite content to stay oppressed, London libers have been trying for two years or more to find out what democracy is all about and they still have not succeeded; they have dismissed bureaucracy because it is part of the straight world and have blocked their ability to organise as a result. Hence there has been little liberation in London, although there has been a lot of jiggery-pokery with social values, and a lot of political gymnastics which have done more harm than good.

No, I don’t feel that I am manacled to a ball and chain; quite the opposite. It is not so much the ball and chain being on the other foot as the foot which has it being on the other leg, ie my critics. The only way to get at straight society is to compromise with it, and accept what you know to be good and reject what you know to be bad. There is, after all, a lot about being gay which is bad; and being gay at the expense of everything else is just such a thing.

Gay Liberation Films

The 26th Edinburgh International Film Festival includes two short documentaries about Gay Liberation, one British, one American. The British film, Come Together, shot in early 1971, was made by John Shane (not his real name, it seems, which is hardly a shining example of liberation). It is colourful, confused and rather appealing, like GLF itself. There are restrained examples of meetings and demonstrations, and the film is held together by crosscutting with interviews of half a dozen or so varied representatives of the movement. Political statements tend to cancel out: GLF must ally itself with the struggle of all oppressed people, GLF must concentrate on Gay issues. By its warmth and vitality the film should (if they ever manage to see it) convey a message of hope to timid provincials wistfully longing to escape from their closets. To straight society it says, successfully I think: homosexuals are real people, not the stereotypes you try to make out of us, and we want a fair deal.

By comparison the American film, Some of Your Best Friends (University of Southern California, directed by Kenneth Robinson) is more coherent, more searching, perhaps just a shade clinical. What basically gives it its different flavour is the more abrasive American situation, and the correspondingly more determined and purposeful action of Gay militants. A meeting is told how a landlord has tried to evict a Lesbian by force. John Platania (a screen natural) describes with vigour and humour his arrest by a police agent provocateur and the subsequent court case. We see the Christopher Street West parade of 1970, catching just a glimpse of that famous Vaseline jar float, and fascinating action shots of the take-over by GLF of a meeting of psychiatrists assembled to hear a lecture on aversion thereapy. In an attempt to range across the whole activist scene, there are shots of a meeting of the Westside Discussion Group, a more CHE type of organisation, and someone makes the entirely valid point that most people cannot be expected to jump from the closet to the streets in one fell leap.

But the impact of this sequence is vitiated cinematically by the fact that the participants did not want to be identifiable on the screen. Let us face once and for all the truth that those shadowed faces and wingbacked chairs are horribly counterproductive, reinforcing in the public mind the image of the homosexual as a lurking, inhuman creature of the dark.

In the same programme (now I wonder why?) a preview of a film made by Brian Mahoney for Scottish Television about our incomparable Lindsay Kemp. The title sequence contains the most quintessential Lindsay, as with his sweet-sad-vulnerable face he stands and creates some of those fragile, Cocteauesque drawings. The rest is perhaps a little thin, despite some charming shots and a commentary that contains interesting apercus: his work, he says, is about failure, as the work of great clowns usually is. I said a preview, but it seems that someone in STV has had cold feet about the full frontals, and so Scottish sitting-rooms will stay unviolated for the present.

Other Gay Papers

02-197206XX 11

  • GAY INTERNATIONAL NEWS.
    An international forum from Gay Liberation Front. Price 5p. (8p by post). Monthly. Available direct from GLF (London), 5 Caledonian Road, London N.1. Tel: 01-837 7174
  • LUNCH.
    An independant magazine, edited by members of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Price 20p (25p in shops or by post). Monthly. Available direct from Lunch Magazine, 23 Avon Court, Keswick Road, London SW15 2JU.
  • COME TOGETHER.
    The mouth piece of Gay Liberation Front. Price 5p (8p by post). Out ever four to six weeks. Available direct from G.L.F. (London), 5 Calendonian Road, London N.1. Tel: 01-837 7174.
  • SMG NEWS’.
    Monthly newsletter from Scottish Minorities Group. Free, but send S.A.E. Available direct from S.M.G., 214 Clyde Street, Glasgow G1 4JZ
  • ARENA THREE.
    Published under licence from Esme Langley. A gay womens’ magazine. Price 25p. Monthly. Available direct from Majorie Bryanton, BCM/Sea Horse, London W.C.1. Tel: 01-734 5588
  • SAPPHPO.
    An independent gay womens’ magazine. 25p. Monthly. Available direct from Sappho, Publications Ltd., BCM/Petrel, London W.C.1.

Other Gay Papers

01-197205XX 11

  • GAY INTERNATIONAL NEWS.
    An international forum from Gay Liberation Front. Price 5p. (8p by post). Monthly. Available direct from GLF (London), 5 Caledonian Road, London N.1. Tel: 01-837 7174
  • LUNCH.
    Journal of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Price 10p. Monthly. Available direct from Lunch, 25 Upper Montagu Street, London W1H 1RQ.
  • COME TOGETHER.
    The mouth piece of Gay Liberation Front. Price 5p (8p by post). Out ever four to six weeks. Available direct from G.L.F. (London), 5 Calendonian Road, London N.1. Tel: 01-837 7174.
  • SMG NEWS’.
    Monthly newsletter from Scottish Minorities Group. Free, but send S.A.E. Available direct from S.M.G., 214 Clyde Street, Glasgow G1 4JZ
  • ARENA THREE.
    Published under licence from Esme Langley. A gay womens’ magazine. Price 25p. Monthly. Available direct from Majorie Bryanton, BCM/Sea Horse, London W.C.1. Tel: 01-734 5588
  • SAPPHO.
    An independent gay womens’ paper. 20p. Monthly. Available direct from Sappho, Publications Ltd., BCM/Petrel, London W.C.1.

Snippets

01-197205XX 11From the Observer……”Writing biographies of Edward Heath is becoming a cottage industry.”

And from somewhere a little nearer home……”Course, Teddy’s never had any trouble, ‘cept once, when he went with someone who wasn’t in the services.”

We also hear the Gay Liberation Front’s newspaper, ‘Come Together’, is now being referred to in certain rather structured gay circles as “Fall Apart.”

And while we’re in that corner of the world, may we express our condolences to the exalted gentleman who slipped his disc in a counselling session.

Finally, a sobering thought for all gay newshounds everywhere.
“Over and above everything else Jeremy was in love with himself: but he didn’t get on together.”

Or, as we were told the other night in the caff up the road………
“Toilet? It’s downstairs, it’s the ladies. We share everything here.”

Bye for now.