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

New York

Writing 101: day Twenty. The Things We Treasure

Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure
Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.
It’s the final day of the challenge already?! Let’s make sure we end it with a bang — or, in our case, with some furious collective tapping on our keyboards. For this final assignment, lead us through the history of an object that bears a special meaning to you.
A family heirloom, a flea market find, a childhood memento — all are fair game. What matters is that, through your writing, you breathe life into that object, moving your readers enough to understand its value.

Ipswich, Felixstowe, Hadleigh, Suffolk, Norwich, Norfolk, Brighton, East Sussex, Bremerhaven, Germany, New York, Amsterdam, my bear has visited them all.

I’m not a hoarder, or into collecting things. In the past people have tried, most notably skulls, which relate to my love of all things Gothic and the many skulls I have incorporated into my tattoos. At one point I hid all the skulls in a patch of garden outside my flat but I removed them when two children told their mum they had found a mass grave; thankfully the mum saw the funny side of it. Those skulls have now found new homes.

Skulls, skulls, skulls

Skulls, skulls, skulls

The only possession from my childhood days to be my constant companion has been my teddybear that my Nana bought me when I was born. Now, this is no Steiff bear, far from it; in reality it has absolutely no monetary worth at all, but to me it is priceless.

When I left home, aged seventeen I didn’t have that many belongings to take with me except my Hazel O Connor scrapbook and poster with everything else, including my bear, in a little black case (So Bronski Beat) and headed off to the bright lights of….Felixstowe!

Hazel O Coonor, me and Jo.

After a short period of commuting via my moped I ended up renting a room in a very big house. My landlady was very strange and I later found out she was nicking my food! This came about when I had decided not to go home to visit my Nana one weekend. While laying in bed with my bear I saw my bedroom door open and in walked my landlady, with her grandson in her arms; not realising I was there she said, “Let’s see what cereals we have.” She then turned, looked at me and my bear and just walked out again.

My next adventure for me and my bear was a move to a little town called Hadleigh, Suffolk where I got a job as a trainee baker. To begin with I once again commuted on my trustee moped, getting up at 11 pm for a midnight start. On one of those evenings my moped packed in before I even got onto the main road and so I packed my bike in the town centre, called up my sister, Dawn and asked her to drive me to work; her reward was a day old Eccles cake!

After my shift I hitched a lift back home. Now, I was very aware that there are all kinds of stranger danger and this I was to find out to be true when I was picked up by a man who talked about his work in computers. I was ready to commit murder by the time he dropped me off!

Now, the thing is when travelling in the middle of the night it was cold and so i was dressed in my duffle coat and scarf, by the time I had finished my shift it was baking hot and everyone else were dressed in shorts and tee-shirts. To make matters worse my moped was now surrounded by a load of really big motorbikes, with all the bikers sitting around in their cut off denim jackets and jeans. I tried my very best to get my bike without much fuss but ended up knocking one bike over which had a domino effect and so all the other bikes crashed over. I think because I looked so odd I was saved a beating as they shook their heads while picking their bikes up.

A bakers life was not really for me and with the help of a man called Tim, I moved from Felixstowe to Norwich and retrained as a chef and silver service waiter at Norwich Hotel School. Here I moved into the college dorm where Norwichmy bear and I where very happy. It was here I was to get my first taste of homophobia. I tried setting up a Gaysoc, but only one guy, called ‘Lumpy Head Steve’ applied and so that never really got off the ground. BTW, Steve got his nickname after two friends decided to give him a hair cut, taking a side each and the hair cut got shorter and shorter until they had to give him a skinhead….

I digress; On my doorplate I had my name under which someone had written “Is gay” to which I added, “So?”

I really can’t be doing with people who try to intimidate me, such bullies are just cowards.

After two years of study it was time to move on once more. Two of my Norwich mates, Davey and Trevor had moved to Brighton and said I should give the town a go and so I upped sticks, got a job at The Bedford Hotel, quickly followed by the Grand when it reopened. I can clearly remember Margaret Thatcher greeting us all when what I really wanted to do was to rush over to the other side of the road and join the throng of anti-Tory protestors.

The Grand was good fun, but there was more adventures to be had when the QE2 relaunched and so I grabbed my bear and took to the high seas. However, for the first month the ship was still in dry dock in Bremerhaven QE2 BearGermany. Each night all staff were given four cans of beer and four cans of coke a cola. Most of the waiters went to the local bar to sing ‘New York, New York’ on loop. For the first week I stayed in my cabin until my bear was kidnapped! I came back to my cabin to find a ransom note, “Come to the bar with your cans of beer or you’ll never see your bear again.”

I went to the bar, paid my ransom and got my bear back!

Since then my bear has been to Amsterdam and back after an ill thought through flight of fancy of a new life over there. And now he sits high up on my shelf with the other bears enjoying a quite retirement.

Home Bear

Posted on by admin in Hazel O Connor, writing 101 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

80’s Pop rewind

With the summer riots of last year still fresh in our mind, every increasing joblessness, and the Conservative Government delivering a budget that once again sees them feathering the nest of their rich cronies, it’s as if we have collectively jumped in a time machine and found ourselves back in 1980’s Thatcher’s domain. 

Of course that era wasn’t all doom and gloom, there was the fashion that could not be ignored, our TV screens were awash with classic trash programs like Dallas and Dynasty but best of all was the music that made this particular time in history so memorable. 1981 saw the launch of MTV, were the visual impact was as important as the sound itself, and without a whiff of irony the first ever video to be played was Video Killed the Radio Star, by the Buggles

Looking back perhaps the monster the 80’s created is to blame for so much of the manufactured, over hyped pap churned out by the modern-day that is not to say that the 1980’s had its own fair share of forgettable tunes. Of course only time will tell when in twenty years time we will still be bopping around to Alicia Keys, New York State of Mind? (Yes definitely), Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, (probably) or how about anything by Justin Bieber? (Hopefully not).

The true test to any pop stars career will be partly down to image, but the thing that gives them longevity will always be well crafted music with lyrics that say more than, “Baby, baby, baby”, and yes Justin, that means you.

This month Brighton Dome saw the brilliant band The Stranglers take to the stage and remind us all just what make a great band. Memories came flooding back as they played hit after hit including their seminal single Golden Brown. Of course it helped that this particular song was wrapped up in mystery over what the lyrics were actually about, was it heroin use, a sunset or just a piece of toast.

June 3rd  2012, sees the Brighton Dome opening its doors to another 80’s music legend when Gary Numan will be performing all of his classic hits including his famous electro-pop style hits Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and Cars.

Later in the year, two very different styles of 80’s pop will be coming to Brighton. On the 12th November 2012, Joan Armatrading will be reminding us all, not only how beautiful her voice is, but also what perfect pop songs sound like. Armatrading back catalogue is filled with songs that would get even the most jaded pop junkie tapping their feet with her songs, Drop the Pilot (was that song really directed at straight women to give same-sex loving a try?) I Love It When You Call Me Names (never has S&M sex sounded so much fun), to the more heart wrenching ballads,  Love and Affection and Down To Zero.

A final treat for 80’s pop fans see Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley came together as the Human League at the Brighton Concert Hall, 23rd Novemeber 2o12. No matter how many years have passed, this trio still manage to look as give moody looks that would make Victoria Beckham come across as the laughing Cow. Once again, this band’s music stands testament to just how  good the 80’s were and that there lyrical talents told great stories: Don’t You Want Me?, Mirror Man, and the political song, The Lebanon which stands as being just as relevant today.

The 80’s maybe remembered for many a disastrous hair cut, or dodgy shoulder pad, but as this list goes to show the music in the 80’s is something to be truly proud of.

 

 

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Brighton & Hove, Leisure, LGBT 3 Comments

Provocative, inspirational, genius: Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989

Robert Mapplethorpe was born on long island, received a B.F.A From Brooklyn were he was experimenting with varies types of art, but at this stage photography was not his primary passion. It was only later when he stated using a Polaroid instamatic, taking images of his friends and family that he would turn his attention to this art form and push the boundaries and become known for his more notorious photography. The very foundations of the art institutions would be rocked as Mapplethorpe presented work that for many was simply pornographic. But it was Mapplethorpe’s eye for light and shade that made the viewer see the artistic touch within these raw images that represented the underground sadomasochism New York club scene that Mapplethorpe so loved and from that he showed beauty within the darkness.

In his interviews he claimed not to want to shock, but by mixing images such as Louise Bougeois, renowned French-american artist and sculptor with a unfeasible large sex toy says he knew exactly how to play the media game, ensuring he quickly became established as someone to watch out for.

As his career continued, Mapplethorpe played with different styles and images, moving from the shock value of the S and M scene, to portraits of the famous, to flowers.It was even with this subject that he managed to bring erotica into the frame with their suggestive protruding pistol and feminine genital shaped curves. The way he captures their form is stunning, taking the way he uses his human subjects and applying that to the flowers, using isolation of the image, making the viewer take note of the light and shade, the shadows and shapes that are thrown up.

As beautiful as these well crafted images are, Mapplethorpe insisted that this type of work was done as a way of paying for projects, he was really interested in. He also added that the flower projects were the only type of his art that would be allowed in public galleries.

Had he lived, he would have smiled to see that his work that was once seen as too controversial would now be hailed as way before his time.  Like Artist before him, Mapplethorpe pushed the boundaries, making images in art and media move forward, which can only be a good thing. What I finally want to say about this man is no matter what your view on him you must have some admiration, no matter how small that he would make you stop and think about his work, be it showing you beauty in the image of celebrities, flowers or exploring extreme sexual images and near the end of his life taking hard to view images of himself finally losing the battle to AIDS which stole away a great artist of our time.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Fiction & Books, Flash Blogs, Health, HIV/AIDS, Leisure, Literature Leave a comment

Speak Out Against Online LGBT Bullying

For as many people who go out of their way to say something nice, there are a few bad apples who think it quite acceptable to spout words of hate believing their actions have little or no consequence to their victims; this is never the case. Last week it was reported that a fourteen year old boy named  Jamey Rodemeyer had taken his own life after suffering a sustained campaign of homophobic abuse at school and online. Some of the messages read “’JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT AND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!’ while another said: ‘I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it 🙂 It would make everyone WAY more happier!’

New York police have said they are considering charging three students for sending messages of hate, Read more

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Human Rights, LGBT Leave a comment