More to Me Than HIV

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More to Me Than HIV

First published in Gscene July 2020 For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library.For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library. For the project I spoke openly about my journey having being           Read more

More to Me Than HIV: GScene post Aug 2020

More to Me Than HIV is a project that aims to breakdown the stigma that has historically been attached to this virus.  When I saw my piece in last months Gscene to promote the More to Me Than HIV project, I was extremely proud, but a small part of me was filled with anxiety; but why should I feel this way? I have been on effective antiretroviral therapy since the Read more

More to Me Than HIV: first published in GScene July 2020

For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library. For the project I spoke openly about my journey having being             diagnosed HIV+ 32 years previous. Back then there was no treatment and a lot of fear and misinformation concerning how HIV was transmitted. As such stigma was rife, Read more

homosexuality

Brighton and Hove City Reads: My Policeman, By Bethan Roberts

My Policeman, Bethan Roberts’ third novel, and this year’s Brighton and Hove City Reads, revolves around a Ménage à trois, set in 1950’s Brighton that is doomed from the start.

            As an awkward teenager, Marion is befriended by, Silvia. I was thinking – you look alright, will you be my friend? During one of their shared times in Silvia’s bedroom while listening to Nat King Cole, Patti Page and Perry Como, Silvia’s brother, Tom makes an appearance at the bedroom door.

            He couldn’t have been more than fifteen – barely a year older than me; but his shoulders were already wide and there was a dark hallow at the base of his neck.

            From that moment, Marion is besotted with Tom, ignoring all the signals, and the coded advice from Silvia that Tom isn’t the boy Marion wants him to be.

            I know you’ve got a crush on Tom. But it’s not the same, Tom’s not like that.

            Tom struggles too with his inner emotions about his sexuality. Not because he hates the way he feels, but because society tells him that his feeling are perverse. After a spell in the army, Tom returns to Brighton and enrols in the police force; much to Marion’s delight. Unlike her friend, Silvia, whose main ambition was to get married and have a baby, Marion enrols in teacher collage, sharing the same passion and inquisitive streak as Tom, wanting to know more than the boundaries of Brighton. Although Tom shows little interest beyond a friendship with Marion, she is still hopeful that love will blossom if she continues to persevere.

            Meanwhile, Tom’s life is about to be turned upside down when he is asked for his assistance regarding a minor road accident by Patrick; a respected art curator at Brighton Museum and closeted homosexual. As is the case with Marion, Patrick falls deeply in love with Tom on their first meeting. And so begins the tragedy of one love destined to be unfulfilled and one dangerously forbidden. 

            Roberts presents the story through Marion’s present day manuscript and Patrick’s diary, written during the time of his love affair with Tom during the 1950’s.  Through these accounts we are reminded of the hopeless marriages many women unwittingly entered into and the sadness of those men who were compelled to enter into sham relationships; while all the time longing to be true to their hidden sexuality.

            Roberts’ is a well cvrafted storyteller, pulling the reader into the world of Marion and Patrick as they both share the love of their policeman. The draconian laws on homosexuality are exposed for their outdated views, with minor characters highlighting the opinions of many at the time that a change in the law about who we can love should be changed.

            We all knew he was queer – so many of them are around here – but one can’t help but feel sorry. Sometimes this country is too brutal.

            At times her beautiful description of their doomed love makes it nearly unbearable to turn the page as Marion fights to save her marriage, while in equal measures Patrick brings joy into Tom’s life as he swims ever deeper into a world that will ultimately destroy all their lives beyond repair.

            Roberts has created a story that once finished, this author felt compelled to start at the beginning and read the whole novel again.

      

 

 

 

Posted on by admin in Brighton & Hove, Fiction & Books, LGBT, Literature Leave a comment

Remembering the importance of the play/Film: The Boys in the Band.

I couldn’t care less what people do, as long as they don’t do it in public or try and force their ways on the whole dam world.

Alan, The Boys in the Band.

The comment above was taken from the 1968 play, The Boys in the Band. To put the era in perspective, the play was conceived a year before the Stonewall Riots in New York and a year after the passing of the The Sexual Offences Act 1967 in the UK which decriminalised homosexuality.

 

While interviewing a group of older gay men for an upcoming project by QueenSpark Books and this year’s Brighton; ‘City Reads’ My Policeman by Bethan Roberts, I was reminded of just how difficult it was for gay men to be open about their sexuality outside of the their homes or the gay bars that were hidden from public view, during the 1950’s/60’s. The play and film Boys in the Band was ground breaking as it gave gay men an unapologetic view about the lives they led, the men they loved to a wider audience outside the gay ghetto.

 

Although the play garnered favourable reviews, when the film was released two years later the Gay Liberation Movement that had formed after the Stonewall Riots, were extremely critical of the characters in The Boys in the Band. Rather surprisingly the GLM thought the characters where little more than stereotypes that did nothing to help the ‘gay cause ’. These comments went some way in helping bury the film, until it was revived again in 1996. One New York reviewer wrote, “ It’s okay to like Boys in the Band Once more”.

So what about the play and film? What were its origins? How did it all begin?

 

Mart Crowley found himself on hard times, to the point that he had to rent out his own apartment to survive. At the same time Crowley got a call from his actress friend, Diana Lynn who said she needed someone to house-sit her Mansion in Beverley Hills. Crowley snapped up her offer and found himself surrounded by luxury, but without a penny to his name. It was here that he put pen to paper and began to write the ground breaking play, The Boys in the Band.

Back in 1968 Homosexuality was still a taboo subject and many of Crowley’s friends said he was crazy for even thinking he could get a play about nine men, eight of whom were out as gay, ever produced, let alone find an audience at the time who would even care about these characters.

Unperturbed, Crowley finished the draft and asked around about getting help to get the project off the ground and asked his friend Natalie Wood who was married at the time to British producer Richard Gregson. Gregson in turn set up a meeting with an associate from his company, London International, in New York, who promptly said that they couldn’t possibly send that type ofplay out with their letterhead on it. Crowley response was to ask if they had heard of Richard Barr who had recently produced the Broadway production of, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When the response was, ‘Of course’, Crowely said that perhaps Barr wouldn’t be afraid of his script that also tackled some heavy subjects. The agent duly sent the script and a meeting was organised the next day for Crowley to meet with Barr.

 

From this meeting nine actors where gathered, (with most of them losing their agents who believed that the actors would be tainted by acting in a play predominantly about gay men’s relationships). A workshop was put together, off, off Broadway and ran for five nights. Every night was a sell-out with the one hundred seat theatre being packed out by an all male gay audience. Encouraged by the positive response Crowley and the producers took a gamble and raised the funds needed to take the play to a bigger theatre and audience. The play ran, off Broadway for a very successful one thousand and one performances.  Despite the cries from all the doubters, the play quickly became the hot ticket in town with major celebrities of the time, including Jackie Kennedy, Groucho Marks, Marlene Dietrich and Carol Channing all coming to see the show.

To everyone’s amazment the play moved from New York to London and was then translated and played to packed audiences around the world. The cast included: Emory (Cliff Gorman), the effeminate interior designer, Michael (Kenneth Nelson) the lapsed Roman Catholic, alcoholic, Larry (Keith Prentice), and Hank (Laurence Luckinbill) a couple who disagree over the importance of monogamy, the morose, and at the same time acid tongued queen Harold (Leonard Frey), who’s birthday everybody is celebrating, as well as Donald (Frederick Combs), Bernard(Reuben Greene)  and the young, dumb, prostitute cowboy, Tex,(Robert La Tourneaux) who becomes the butt of everybody’s jokes, and finally, Alan (Peter White) who may or may not be gay. With the passing of time each of these characters are still recognisable not because they are stereotypes, but because they represent a part of human nature that exists in many of us today, regardless of sexuality or gender. 

 

The Boys in the Band went on to be made into a film, using the same Broadway cast which Crowley (who produced and wrote the film) insisted was part of the deal, even though it meant he lost out on more lucrative deals from film companies who wanted to hire more well known actors for the parts.

Crowley was also keen for Robert Moore, who had directed the play to be part of teh production, but was told that a more experienced directed was required.

William Friedkin (who went on to direct the French Connection) was brought on board and helped create a brilliant film that begins with so much light and laughter and then gradually descends into a much darker piece as truth, pain and heartache is brought to the fore.

Forty-four years have passed since the play was first shown, yet the message of love, friendship, secrets and lies are as strong today as they were back then, but perhaps more importantly the films historical and political place and the fact it opened the doors to Queer Theater should not be underestimated. http://youtu.be/zOakue0MiZs

A new production of The Boys in the Band is presently playing at Brighton’s Theater Royal, staring amoung others, Dave Lynn, Stephen Richards and Jason Sutton. a review of the show can be read at blog.zhooshbrighton.co.uk

Posted on by admin in film, LGBT, QueenSpark Books Leave a comment

Church of the Poisoned Mind

Throughout the 1980’s schools were gagged from talking about homosexuality by the Conservative Government’s hated Clause 28. Fast forward to what many of us would like to think are enlightened times, with Clause 28 consigned to the history books and our knowledge of how HIV can be prevented through education and safer sex. David Cameron has apologised for the way the conservatives dealt with these issues in the past and now schools are legally obliged to condemn discrimination on the grounds of sexual-orientation, although there is still a long way to go with many schools not discussing enough but the issues of safer sex. However, last year Pope Benedict XVI has pulled off his blinkers to the AIDS crises and said that in exceptional circumstances, (male prostitutes ) condoms can be used. Hearing these things from such high power, one could almost believe things are getting better, but a report in the news recently has shown there are still those intent on peddling untruths and causing as much damage as they can with views on homosexuality. Last week it was reported that a US preacher has visited Catholic schools and peddling outdated hatred by distributing a booklet called: Pure Manhood: How to become the man God wants you to be. Within the pages the booklet suggest that feeling of homosexuality is a disorder against Gods wishes and that homosexual feelings in adolescence men may be a reaction to an unhealthy relationship with the young person’s father, an inability to relate to other young men, or even sexual abuse. The book goes on to say that “scientifically speaking, safe sex is a joke”. Returning to Cameron and his rousing words at the time of the last election promising that his government would be a fairer, inclusive Britain; it would be hoped that he would step up to the plate and condemn these preacher’s words and ban him from peddling such hatred in schools. After all, we have seen just how fiercely he has come down on other preachers who peddle hatred with the likes of Abu Qatada under house arrest with the backroom boys working day and night to have him extradited. But unsurprisingly Cameron’s government have proven they are as eager as ever to continue discriminating as they have always done with education secretary Michael Gove saying, “The education provisions of the Equality Act 2010 which prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their protected characteristics (including their sexual orientation) do not extend to the content of the curriculum. Any materials used in sex and relationship education lessons, therefore, will not be subject to the discrimination provisions of the act.” A further statement from the Department for Education added, “Any school engaging in the promotion of homophobic material would be acting unlawfully.” But the row highlights a grey area over the teaching of sex education. A review intended to offer new guidelines on what was right for schools to teach was kicked into the long grass when the last election was called.” This in other words translates that the government don’t see this as a vote winner and hope that the issue will get pushed aside, even though chief executive Ben Summerskill has said, “It would certainly be helpful if there was clarity as to what is appropriate for young people of all ages, the water could no longer be muddied by people pushing age-inappropriate sex material on the one hand and fundamentalist anti-gay religious materials on the other.” Church leaders are continuing to bemoan that their views are being marginalised. Perhaps for one moment the likes of the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey should take a look at how his religion is being used to frighten, misinform and ruin lives and then take stock at how the Christian faith can be used for the better and not hate.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Flash Blogs, Human Rights, LGBT, Zhoosh 1 Comment