Posts Tagged ‘oppression’
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is the concluding part of an extract from Kristian Johns’s forthcoming book ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon. Read part 1 here.
Kyle’s ‘work’ phone had woken him from dozing on the sofa, but he never ignored a call. Not when there was money to be made.
There was no background noise on the line, which meant the caller was indoors, but then again, Kyle never got the kind of calls people made out in the street or on a train. The caller sounded like they had a chest infection or something.
“Hello?” Kyle repeated
“How much for you to visit?” The voice on the other end belonged to an older guy. Kyle could tell these things.
Sounds like the only visit you need is from a doctor.
“Three hundred. I’ll negotiate on overnights but I’m generally not an overnight kind of guy, y’know? You got a name?”
“We have a deal.”
“OK, dude, what are you looking fo—“
Kyle looked at the phone and arched his eyebrows. “Well, you’re rude,” he muttered while trying to tame his curly brown hair and wondering if he could get away without showering. A sniff of his t-shirt told him not.
His phone beeped with a text telling him the address, and instructions to arrive in an hour.
He texted his best friend Ian: Got a job. U gonna still be up in a couple of hours?
Almost immediately the reply came back: Sure. Come ova if u want. Have half a cold pizza n beer J
Fifteen minutes later, still damp from his shower, he took one last look in the mirror at the boyish face and slim body that drove so many older guys wild, and satisfied, grabbed his jacket and keys. It was Wednesday night, and midweekers were few and far between lately, so it was a good thing.
Might even go regular? He thought, swiping his wallet over the reader at Pimlico tube station and heading down to the cool, painted concrete of the tunnels below.
He arrived ten minutes early at the address in Kensington. A pretty fucking nice address at that. Kensington’s one of those places where you’re walking down a street lined with townhouses and you suddenly twig that none of them have been converted into flats yet. This was where money lived.
He’s loaded. Should have said five hundred. Dammit.
The door opened almost as soon as he pressed the bell, which startled him slightly — like the guy had been waiting there. The guy was a well-dressed man in his mid-fifties, wearing a double breasted grey suit with a blue shirt and tie. For some reason he was carrying a briefcase, and Kyle wondered if he’d only just arrived home. He offered his hand
“Hi, there. I’m Kyle, we spoke about an hour ago?”
— and you’re minted and ugly so I’m being polite and hoping this goes regular. Sad fuck.
The man looked momentarily down at Kyle’s hand, and then jerked his head in an ‘in-you-come’ gesture.
Minted, ugly, rude. But minted.
Kyle stepped inside and followed the silent, shuffling man down and immaculately tiled hallway and into a plush living room. They sat on the couch. The man kept hold of his briefcase.
“I usually get the money thing out the way first. Makes it less awkward at the end. That cool?”
The man nodded and produced an envelope from his blazer pocket. Kyle didn’t feel the need to check. The guy had a townhouse in Kensington for fuck’s sake.
For some reason, the guy gave Kyle the creeps, and not just because he didn’t talk. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a first-timer to clam up. No, this guy was a different kind of creepy. To anyone else, he would have appeared nervous, sitting there, breathing like a phone pest, clutching his briefcase like it was welded to him. But not to Kyle, whose years of experience as an escort —
— had given him an uncanny ability to read people. Kyle always felt a sense of power when he was with clients, but this guy exuded a powerful aura of control. It made him feel…dislocated…vulnerable.
“So. What do you like to do?” Kyle asked, dismayed to hear an edge to his voice; a slight tremor that turned his vowels to ridges.
The man’s eyes fixed on Kyle’s and his face cracked into a humourless grin and Kyle’s skin prickled with unease as he realised he’d forgotten to text Ian the guy’s address like they always agreed.
“Uhm…you like coke? I have some on me. It’s good for relaxing. Makes you feel like the king of the world.” said Kyle, cursing inwardly as he fumbled his wallet and dropped it on the floor.
The man continued to smile at him, like he found Kyle amusing.
Have a line and focus. He isn’t the one in control here. You are. Always remember that.
“Is it OK to do it on the table? It looks —
— just chop the fucking line and stop babbling!
“—expensive. I wouldn’t want to—“
The man’s voice was husky, but still went through Kyle like a gunshot. He tried to hide his juddering hands as he knelt over the spotless glass table and shook out more coke than he should have. He chopped two fat lines, pulled out a well-rolled note and snorted. He handed the note to the man, feeling the burn and gagging slightly as the coke hit the back of his throat. The rush was almost immediate — he always bought top-drawer stuff.
The client barked a deep, phlegmy cough as he finished his own line and returned to the sofa, still holding the briefcase.
Fortified by the coke, Kyle knelt up behind the man and began kneading his shoulders. The man inhaled a deep, wheezy lungful as he slumped under Kyle’s expert fingers.
“That feel good, mister?”
The guy nodded.
Course it does, you limp-dicked old fart. You’ve probably come in your y-fronts already. Easy money.
Kyle reached for the hand holding the briefcase, “Why don’t you put that down so you can relax with me on the —?”
“NO!” shouted the man, jumping up, his suit jacket half-off his shoulders. His eyes flashed, and Kyle felt his fear crack open again.
“Okay! Okay!” Kyle held his hand out in an ‘easy there’ gesture but the man stepped back again, his eyes flashing.
“Don’t you dare touch it! Don’t you DARE touch this case!” He hugged it in a pose that might have looked absurd if it hadn’t been for his vicious expression. His face was turning a deep shade of purple and his eyes bulged. He tugged at his collar with his free hand.
“Dude, calm down, I wasn’t going to…are you O—“
The man thudded violently to the floor before Kyle could finish his sentence. Gooey blobs of phlegm splattered from his mouth as he fought desperately to catch a breath. The hand holding the briefcase let go and grabbed at his shoulder. The noise was awful, a rasping, desperate sound like nails down a blackboard
He’s having a heart attack. He’s having a goddamn motherfucking heart attack.
Kyle knew he should do something —
— you’re a rent boy who’s given him drugs.
— call an ambulance, anything, but he was glued to the spot, mesmerised by the horror of watching another human being dying, knowing he should do something, pick up the phone, call out, anything, but torn by the fear of the consequences.
— call a fucking ambulance. Flush the coke and call an ambulance
The man gaped at Kyle with eyes shot through with fear, confusion and blood. He pawed feebly at it the briefcase before his body was wracked with a final, violent spasm, and then he lay still.
Kyle stood rooted to the spot. A wild jumble of thoughts clattered round in his mind: I should check if he’s dead I should call an ambulance I should flush the coke and then call an ambulance I should try and give him the kiss of life I should grab my shit and get the fuck out of here I should see what’s in that briefcase.
The briefcase the man had been so ferocious about protecting.
I should see what’s in that briefcase.
He knelt over the man, heart pounding so hard he swore he could see his t-shirt rippling. He gingerly put his ear close to the man’s mouth. No breath. Not even a whisper.
He slid over to where the briefcase lay upside down on the smooth, varnished wooden floor and flipped it over. It was nothing special: just your bog standard department store job, black leather, with a cheap, gold combination lock on each side of the handle.
“What’s so important that you couldn’t let this out of your sight, eh?” Kyle asked the dead man, searching in his own bag for the screwdriver he always carried around with him on jobs. Police didn’t take kindly to knives. At least if he got stopped and searched he could say he was borrowing it.
A few well-placed jabs, a couple of turns of the wrist and the locks sprang open. It was then, Kyle understood.
He’d often wondered what a million pounds looked like. And now he reckoned he had a fair idea.
He pulled out his phone and dialled Ian.
**EXCERPT FROM TRANSCRIPT OF USB RECORDER FOUND ON THE BODY OF MATTHEW WRIGHT. DATE: June 26th 2011**
(Shuffling noises, metallic sound, probably from chains. Sound of a man crying)
(Male voice): He didn’t come today, or yesterday, or the day before that. But my today and yesterday might just be someone else’s today. I don’t know. I’ve tried to count the seconds and get some sense of time but I can’t concentrate. I don’t know if he’s coming back. I keep blacking out. I’m so hungry. So goddam FUCKING HUNGRY!
(Screams, shouting, chains rattling)
WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU! COME BACK YOU FUCKING CUNT!
(Sound of crying lasting approximately two minutes.)
Every time I wake up it’s from the same nightmare. I hear the sound of the door in my dreams. It scares the shit out of me, but scarier still is the sick way in which I want to hear it. I just want to hear the door open again. I keep…
…I just keep waking up and seeing it open, but I know it’s not really open because he’s not there. I miss him. It sounds so fucking stupid but I miss him. He’s a monster. He’s a FUCKING FUCKED UP MONSTER
(Chains rattle on each word, as if speaker is pulling at them for emphasis)
…but he’s the only human being I think I’ll ever see again. Oh God, how long till I go? How fucking long till I just black out and don’t wake up. PLEASE. Oh, God, please.
(Crying for approximately thirty seconds. The next two minutes of the audio is also muffled and could not be understood)
…of my fucking life. Oh God, I’m so sorry, I’m so, so fucking sorry. Tell John I’m so sorry. And tell him I love him.
**END OF RECORDING**
BBC NEWS WEBSITE: DATE: 7TH JULY 2011: TIME: 11:47am
KENSINGTON ‘HOUSE OF HORRORS’ REVEALS MORE VICTIMS
It has today been confirmed that the remains of a further five victims have been excavated from the basement of the Kensington address where 53-year-old Geoffrey Hamilton was found dead from a heart attack last week. A postmortem on Hamilton’s body has since established the presence of cocaine in his body at time of death.
In a dramatic twist, the corpse of a young male chained to the floor in the basement of the property. Although official cause of death has not yet been made available, it is suspected that the victim, named as 27-year-old sales executive Matthew Wright, died from multiple fractures to the back of his skull. Speculation that Wright may have taken his own life by repeatedly striking his head against the floor has neither been confirmed nor denied.
In a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police today, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Reynolds said:
“We can confirm that we are still in the process of excavating the basement at 45, Barrington Gardens, SW7 and have so far recovered five bodies in addition to those of Geoffrey Hamilton and Matthew Wright. All are believed to be male and we are awaiting the results of DNA testing to determine their identities.”
The funeral of Matthew Wright is expected to take place next week, when the body is released by coroners.
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is an extract from the forthcoming collection ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon.
The room is about ten feet by six, and the ceiling is low — only about eight feet separate it from the floor. There are no windows, which gives the room a damp, humid smell, underpinned by another odour, like meat that’s been left in the fridge too long. I haven’t heard any sounds from the outside world, so I’m assuming the room is underground, but I don’t know how far.
The room was white once, but it hasn’t seen a decent coat of paint in years — possibly decades — and the walls and floor are concrete. There are dark, mottled patches everywhere, each roughly the size of a person. He’s had a go at painting over them, but you can see the stains coming back through the peeling paint like mould.
The room is empty apart from me, and I’m chained to the floor opposite the heavy steel door that serves as his entrance and exit. He’s positioned me so I have no choice but to look at him when he comes in. He likes that, you see. He’s always dressed smartly, like he’s just come from the office, and he’s always carrying a briefcase. He never talks.
There are two thick metal rings buried either side of me and I’m shackled to them, crucifix-style by heavy chains. There’s enough play in them for me to sit up, scratch my face and stuff like that, but the cuffs are inlaid with rows of sharp spikes which have pierced my skin and will rip my wrists to ribbons if I try to pull them out. I black out occasionally, and when I wake up, I always find there’s fresh blood seeping from the wounds — like I’ve been struggling in my sleep.
The cuts are infected now, and there’s a faint rotten smell coming from them. My contacts fell out long ago and my mouth feels hot and putrid. I smell sour with sweat. My clothes are hanging off me and when I wake up from my blackouts, the floor is hard against my now jutting bones. My face is a scratchy mass of beard and my hair is lank and greasy. The days of haircuts, perfectly trimmed stubble and hard effort at the gym just to fill out my t-shirts seem so far away now – and so pointless.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It must have been a while, because the faces of the people I love are becoming fuzzy in my mind. I try to recall John’s face, but as soon as I get a clear picture, it melts away. I try to remember if I told him I loved him that morning, or if I texted him something soppy and alcohol-fuelled later when I was out drinking after work, but I can’t check, because my phone’s been taken. I hope I told him I love him. I miss him. I wonder if he’s trying to find me.
Panic is supposed to subside over time, isn’t it? It’s not true. The fear is relentless. I’m full of adrenaline every waking second, waiting for the sound of the door. My whole life now revolves around waiting for the sound of that door come and to rip apart the constant silence. That’s probably why I keep blacking out. I guess your body is only designed to cope with so much stress before it shuts down. Unconsciousness is a relief to be honest. I mean, I have dreams, but they’re all about being in this room anyway. Sometimes I wake up and don’t realise I’m still dreaming, and sometimes when I’m awake, I question whether I’m conscious. I wonder if I’m going insane.
There’s a screeching sound from the door as he pulls back the heavy bolt on the other side, and despite the fact I’ve been waiting for it, a thunderbolt of fear slashes through me. My bones jump beneath my sagging skin, bile rises in my throat — although there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up — and my pulse hammers in my veins.
And then he’s there in the doorway — an unattractive guy of about fifty, with greying temples and a paunch. He’s wearing the grey suit today, with a cornflower blue shirt and a patterned tie. He’s got two suits — one grey and one navy — and about four ties. He sticks to white and blue shirts. And of course he’s got the briefcase. Always with that fucking briefcase.
He shuffles, slightly hunched over, into the middle of the room, sets the briefcase down and walks back out. He’s disappeared from view, but I hear a faint clanking, whizzing sound, like a rope against a pulley. I suspect he has some sort of dumbwaiter system, because he always returns with a tray.
He checks to make sure his briefcase is still there, and shuts the door. Although it’s already silent in here, the sound still feels like it’s been sucked out of the room; like the air’s tighter somehow. He walks towards me.
I often wondered what it would be like to stare into the eyes of a madman, and now I know. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s true, this man has no soul. There’s nothing there behind his eyes. Absolutely nothing.
At first, when I still had the strength to get angry, I used to scream abuse at him. Brutal, primal things I never even imagined myself saying in my head, let alone out loud. I’d vow to get free and tear him limb from limb. I’d spit, kick and bite, scream at him like nothing human until my throat was in shreds, but he never reacted. He just stood there, observing me with this kind of… muted curiosity until I wore myself out.
Later on, I switched to begging with him, asking why I was there, what he wanted from me. I’d describe where I lived, what I did, the kind of person I was, hoping to connect with whatever last scrap of humanity he may have had. But he just watched silently as I slowly wore down and broke; until there was nothing more of the ‘me’ I used to be. Until I was just a whimpering slab of meat, sobbing and flinching whenever he came near me.
Now I stay silent the entire time he’s here. My trembling gives me away, but I’m damned if I ever let him see me cry again. I’m not in a position to make resolutions — I’m going to die here, I know that now — but I’ve promised myself one thing: I will never cry again in front of that monster.
He carries on now like he’s tending to a mannequin and not a human, pulling down my trousers so I can defecate into a bedpan. Once I’m done, he pulls them back up and begins spooning stone-cold porridge from the tray into my mouth. His breath stinks like cold chips, and every time he inhales, I hear a rattling, wheezing sound. The spoon clatters like a tuning fork against my teeth.
When he’s finished feeding me, he goes and sits on top of the briefcase and just watches, head tilted slightly to the side as if he’s pondering something. At first — back when I had a spirit — I tried to stare him out, but I never won. I refuse to look directly at him now, but I won’t turn my head away. Instead I fix on the spot on the wall just beyond his left ear, and wait till he’s done. Sometimes he’ll sit there for a few minutes, sometimes much longer. The only sounds are the thundering of my heart and his rattling breaths.
He gets up after a few minutes, and immediately I’m a mannequin again to him. I’m invisible as he picks up the briefcase and heads to the door.
I don’t know why, but for the first time in what must be weeks, I speak to him. My voice is alien, dry and unfamiliar, yet resolute, echoing off the bare walls.
“I’m not afraid of dying.”
He stops in the doorway and turns his head slowly to the left, but he doesn’t look at me. And for the first time ever, I hear him speak:
After the door shuts, after the bolt shrieks into place, and after counting to a thousand to make sure he’s gone. I break down.
I cry for me. I cry for the memory of sun on my face, the feel of a hot shower on my skin. I cry for the smell of John’s aftershave, for sex, eating chicken salad, and the loss of my dignity. I cry for the little things, like fresh sheets and the cold side of the pillow on Sunday mornings when John goes out for a run. I cry for my life and my meaningless achievements. I cry for an end to all this.
He was wrong. I’m not afraid of dying — I’m afraid it won’t come soon enough.
Another blackout. I’ve fallen onto my left wrist and the barbs inside the shackles have bitten deep. My forearm is hot, swollen and bloody. I stretch my good hand into my jeans pocket. After all this time, I still can’t believe he missed it when he took my stuff, but there it is, small and metallic in the palm of my hand:
A USB recorder.
I press the button and begin to speak…
It’s been a while since I got up on my political soapbox (well, last Thursday at least), But while I gaily chowed down on my low-fat grilled chicken caesar salad, Grindr chirping away happily in the background, the home-made fruit smoothie on my desk perfectly complimenting my purple Abercrombie and Fitch top, I couldn’t help but wonder: what should we really do with Melanie Phillips?
For those of you who have spent the day in a dark room with only mice for company, Melanie Phillips has joined the ranks of the odious Jan Moir to become the Daily Fail’s newest lady-in-hating. As if she hasn’t already got RSI from her constant pearl-clutching over anything remotely not right-wing, in today’s column, she swivels her Sauron’s eye and fixes it squarely on a brand new “Government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda.”
For those of you who don’t speak fluent bigot, she’s referring to the plans laid out today by the Training and Development Agency for Schools, to develop lesson plans in maths, geography and science that ‘celebrate the gay community’. The opt-in scheme will introduce non-sexual depictions of gay life into lessons, with some references to mummies and daddies occasionally being replaced by same-sex couples, and science lessons in which children will learn about other types of family setup, like those of seahorses and certain species of penguins, which rely on the male to care for the young.
Sound like a good plan? Not so, thinks Phillips, who roared that it was a “ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behaviour.”
Yes, that’s right, Melanie. Leftie homo penguins are coming for your children because militant poofs are holding the Government hostage and forcing them to do our bidding by threatening them with a good hard bumming if they don’t.
In fact, while we’re deporting all the queers to Alcatraz, let’s run those coloured people out as well. They’ve gotten into the White House you know — it’s only a matter of time before one will be in No. 10.
The funny thing is, I read the article (don’t worry, the link goes to the Pink Paper’s verbatim reprint) and to be honest, my jaw didn’t drop. I didn’t sit there incensed. I got to the end and the only thing I did was snort and say, “Whatever.”
In my opinion, all Phillips has achieved is showing herself up. It’s pathetic pieces of writing like this — masquerading under the banner of journalism — that keep gay rights at the forefront of public consciousness.
And do you know what? I welcome it.
Think about it. People like Phillips and Moir work for the Mail because it’s the only paper that would have them. They’re preaching to the converted. They’re talking to an audience they know will agree.
Even the Mail’s own token woofter, Andrew Pierce, has been programmed into spouting forth a load of homophobic nonsense on regular occasion. I’d love to have read the ad: “Wanted – gay journalist for right-wing Tory paper. Must be full of self-hatred and be prepared to lambast their own community in every column.”
Their supporters are few and far between, and now, just like our homosexual forefathers, they know they must keep their mouths shut for fear of reprisal. Times they are a-changing, and the boot, it seems, is now firmly on the other foot. It’s just been fierced up a little with a killer heel and some diamante studs.
Yes, the Mail probably sold out today, and yes, the visitors came to the website in their droves to read the article and probably netted the paper a pretty penny in advertising revenue, but so what? They’re going to need it for all those libel cases they’re constantly fighting.
Why do you think those people came? Was it to join forces with the ‘voice of reason’ Phillips believes herself to be? Or was it to read the article, then regard its author with a mixture of pity and slight revulsion, much the same way you would observe a starving, three-legged one-eyed dog at the roadside, sadly twitching away the last moments of its life?
Such is the shift in the last twenty years or so, that it’s people like Phillips and Moir with their articles on ‘the gays’ (a term as outdated and archaic as the women and paper that printed it) who are now regarded as aberrant. People regard them with a kind of fascination; a caricature of days gone by that nobody actually believes can still exist.
How many straight people do you know who have posted that article on Facebook and said, “I totally agree with this woman”?
So do not vilify Melanie Phillips, for she is a poor, stupid creature. And you shouldn’t kick a dumb animal when it does something wrong just because it lacks intelligence.
Instead, let’s all give her a great big gay old hug. Because as she bleats pathetically from her bigoted, dark little corner, she does so knowing she’s a dying breed.
And let’s face it, after the lambasting she’s going to get — she’s going to need one.
I looked in the mirror at the red-eyed quasimodo squinting gunkily back at me and shuddered. Not because of my reflection — I’ve seen myself in worse states — but because I knew what this meant.
Now, before you start branding me a hypochondriac, I’m not so stupid as to think conjunctivitis is a serious condition. Fear of blindness wasn’t responsible for the quiet dread that crept over me as I crossed my bedroom and opened a drawer.
It was the fact that until the infection had cleared, I would have to wear what was sitting inside.
I hate my glasses. They have the ability to instantly transport me back in time to when I was a chubby, gawky kid with no real friends, constantly teased because he never quite fitted in. They were a constant companion right from the age of four, all the way up through my teenage years.
As soon as I put on my glasses, I’m transformed from a confident, strong-willed man, into a shuffling, self-conscious little boy again. I’m once again freezing to death on a school sports field, waiting to be picked last, because nobody wanted to have a kid with glasses on their team.
I have the most invisible pair ever: two frameless bits of glass held together with one piece of wire, with two longer pieces fixing them to my face, but to me they feel gargantuan. It’s like they weigh a ton as well, pulling my head down to my neck so I’ve got no option but to stare at the floor.
Going without them isn’t an option. With both my eyes boasting a prescription of -4.75 (that’s ‘really fucking short-sighted’ for all you non-optical people), I’d be run over before I even made it to the tube station.
At fifteen years old, after bludgeoning my mother into getting me contacts, she relented.
I stood in the bathroom, tongue out, eyelids stretched, fiddling with this slimy little bowl of plastic for ages, because I was damned if I wasn’t going to get this thing in my eye.
When I finally got them in. I looked at myself and burst into tears.
Most people take their own reflection for granted — but I’d never seen my own face clearly in a mirror.
Shuffling round the gym on Tuesday night, looking at all the hot guys with their spec-free gorgeous faces, it felt like I was back on that playground, looking at the bigger boys standing together in a corner, sniggering at me. Their voices shouting, “Oi! Are you that Su Pollard?” and “Look! It’s Timmy Mallett!” echoing round in my head like a cheesy flashback scene from an 80s movie.
Later that night, tired and sore-eyed, I poured out my misery on Twitter and posted a picture of myself as a bottle-ended nobody.
No amount of you-were-adorables or aww-how-cutes were going to make me feel better, until I noticed something: all the lovely folk of Twitter had begun posting photos of their own childhood di-glass-ters.
I suddenly realised just how many of my fellow Tweeters still wore glasses in their profile pictures.
These were gorgeous, confident men and women — proud of their bins. Were they shuffling around in the background, hoping they wouldn’t be noticed? Hell to the no!
The tweet that finally dragged me out of my needless self-pity and made me realise just what an idiot I was being came from @bishbashboshjosh, who said:
Okay, @guy_interruptd campaigns against the stigma about HIV, but needs therapy for wearing glasses?”
Hmm…well, erm…. Yeah. When you put it like that.
So I’ve decided that tomorrow (well, when I get some money anyway) I’m going to harness my inner geek.
I’m going to take that self-conscious little boy by the hand, march right into Specsavers, (because apparently a lot of people regret not going) and get myself a funky-chunky black pair. I’m going to grab my four-eyed counterpart by the bollocks and be an out and proud speccie.
Well, some of the time, anyway.
The next morning, I dressed in a crisp white shirt and grey suit, and strolled to work with my bespectacled head held high.
Standing at the counter, waiting to pay for my usual breakfast roll, the woman behind it looked up, blinked and said, “Oh! It’s you! I’ve never seen you in your glasses before! You look really handsome.”
“Thanks.” I beamed.
And as I walked out of the cafe, smiling to myself, I thought: Maybe I’ll keep these on for a couple of days after my eyes have cleared up.
It’s not often I admit I’m wrong, so hear me out.
You see, I’m an impulsive sort of guy; I always have been, so when a friend sent me a link to a video for a new campaign aimed at gay teenagers called, “It Gets Better”, it stirred something up in me, and I jumped head first into forming an opinion.
American author, Dan Savage and Terry, his partner of 16 years, speak about their difficult, religiously influenced childhoods, leaving behind their traumatic school years, before meeting each other and settling down into happy, gay, wedded bliss. The message being that if you’re growing up gay and facing the daily ignorance, abuse, and sometimes even violence — it does get better.
A fantastic sentiment — and I mean that sincerely — but part of me couldn’t help feeling like it was all a bit too saccharine for my tastes. I mean, are these two really representative of the wider gay community? And are they telling the truth? Does it ever really get better, or does the focus just shift?
For me, the homophobia subsided at school by the time I was 14 or 15 — I developed a smart mouth and I had a fiery temper, so I soon put my detractors in their place. But it’s actually been since I left school and entered the gay scene that I’ve encountered the most hostility.
You see, we call ourselves the gay ‘community’ — but I think we forget what that word truly means. We actively practice segregation — the dykes don’t talk to the gays, the muscle boys don’t talk to the chickens, the bears all stick together and the skins all go to Compton’s.
Most of us frantically pump iron at the gym in a bid to be accepted by a community that doesn’t even register you if you’re under 70kg and not popping out of an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.
Yep, we’re all about making people feel like they don’t belong.
And why? Maybe we get a kick out of it. After so long feeling different, it’s nice to feel like we’re part of something, and fun to turn our noses up at the people who don’t fit in. And all the while hoping nobody notices that once upon a time, we too were the outsider.
Of course, there’s a difference between not being hot enough and getting the shit kicked out of you. But what’s worse? Being shunned by the idiot kids at school, or by the very community who should be welcoming you, arms open? And all because you simply don’t fit the bill.
If, like Dan and Terry, you manage to avoid all this and find the man of your dreams at a relatively young age, then you’re lucky. But does this rosy picture of a happily married gay couple, complete with adopted son, give kids something to aspire to, or is it setting them up for disappointment when they get out there and find it’s all about instant gratification, transient friendships, fast sex and very little commitment?
You may (possibly rightly) call me bitter, and given my recent experiences, who could blame me? But the truth is, I know (and admire) plenty of happily married gay couples.
My friends Noel and Steve have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for fifteen years and have an adopted son and daughter. My other pals Uwe and Quentin just celebrated eighteen years, and I’m very excited to be going in February to the wedding of Rob and Jamie, who are finally tying the knot after fourteen years together.
But the reality is that most of us are destined to still be on our own well into our 30s, 40s and even 50s and beyond. So do we tell our gay teenagers the cold, hard truth — or should we give them something positive to strive for?
The cynic who couldn’t identify with Dan and Terry’s cuddly, present-day lives was erring on the side of the former.
That was, until yesterday, when I read the story of Seth Walsh, the thirteen year old boy who died on life-support this week, nine days after hanging himself.
The reason? He was being bullied at school for being gay.
As I reflected on my initial reaction of ‘these men do not represent my community’, I realised that what every kid needs is a role model, whether it’s Spider-man, a parent, or the granddad who fought in two wars. Gay teens need something to hold onto during those awful years when others are discovering they’re different as quickly as they themselves are.
If dreaming of getting married and settling down with a white picket fence is what’s going to save the lives of kids like Seth Walsh, then who the fuck am I to pass judgement on a video that may or may not give them unrealistic expectations?
What would I have done if I’d had the chance to speak with Seth before he tried to take his own life? Would I have told him about the liars and the cheats? Would I have told him about the rampant body fascism that dictates we should spend half our waking lives in the gym to feel accepted? Would I have warned him about the dangers of men who just want to get laid and don’t care about passing on HIV?
Of course I wouldn’t. I’d have put my arm around his shoulder and simply said:
“It gets better.”
So rest in peace, buddy. There’s no hatred in heaven. I’m just sorry you didn’t get to see a better life.
Everyone…everyone at some point in their adult life has wanted to have super powers.
Come on — admit it.
Are you seriously trying to tell me you’ve never fantasised about using the power of thought to scatter those slow-walking commuters like skittles as they shuffle through Bank station at 8:30 on a Monday morning?
Tell me you haven’t, just for a split second, imagined casually nudging the air with your fingers at the arrogant cyclist who just jumped the lights while you were trying to cross and sending him flying onto his sweaty, pedestrian-startling backside?
Not even a little bit?
OK, maybe I have anger issues, but superheroes rock. Superheroes are HOT. They never get sick, they can dispatch six or more bad guys simultaneously with ease. They don’t feel pain and they heal instantly. What’s not to love about them?
When I was a kid, I’d spend all my spare cash on growing my library of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and X Men comics. I’d happily lose myself for a whole afternoon in that hyper-real world of bright colours, loud explosions and ass-kickings on every page.
I’ve never grown out of this — OK, maybe the ass-kicking bit — but at the ripe old age of 31, I’m not ashamed to admit I still have fantasies of waking up one day with the power of telekenisis or something.
Yes, I know now that my interest didn’t just end with the storylines and the cool drawings. The baby-homo in me was attracted to their perfect, lycra-wrapped torsos. They were like a schoolboy’s version of Tom of Finland — jaw-droppingly erotic, but safe in the sense that Ma and Pa stayed blissfully unaware that their son was appreciating the artwork on a whole different level.
But as well as the obvious sexual element, superheroes appeal to anyone who’s ever felt different. As a young gay man, I walked around feeling like I was somehow separate from the world. An outsider who didn’t understand why.
When you feel you have to protect something about yourself, it’s only natural you gravitate towards characters with a secret as well, their solitude resonates with you and in some way, makes you feel like you’re not alone.
And to see someone whose secret doesn’t make them weak — in fact, quite the opposite — should be comforting to anyone who’s hiding and feeling vulnerable.
I love that look they get in their eyes right before they unleash hell on the bad guy. That cool appraisal of their opponent and the faint, knowing smile that says: “You have NO idea, do you….?”
Who wouldn’t want to have that unbridled confidence? That feeling of invincibility?
For us homos, the first experiments with the scene, and the wonderful, terrifying feeling you get when you step inside your first gay club isn’t a million miles from the feeling Spider-Man must get he hears the crowd cheering him on. The feeling that finally you’re no longer an outsider — that you belong somewhere.
Is this why gay boys like our tight t shirts? After so long spent hiding, feeling different, scared and alone, do we subconsciously pick this childhood image of strength to make us feel protected in the outside world as we walk along with our pecs and biceps rippling under a thin layer of fabric?
When I was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 23, I went on a mission to prove I was superhuman. I partied from Thursday to Monday, stayed up for days on end, threw pills powders and booze into every orifice I could find and generally tried to push my body to its absolute limits. I wanted to prove I could withstand anything and that I was stronger than this thing that had invaded me: “You’ll see, body of mine! I can take this!”
It didn’t work. HIV was my Kryptonite, and pretty soon I realised if I carried on, I’d end up going to that great Batcave in the sky sooner rather than later.
And then there’s the other crappy part: No matter how many times a superhero saves the world, he or she is always alone. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, all of them have to sacrifice love and relationships to protect their secrets, and the lives of those they love.
And no matter how many wounds they heal from, their hearts can still break.
So when you think about it, are we really all that different from superheroes? OK, so we can’t fly or shoot lasers from our eyes, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses. We all love and get hurt and we all feel alone at times.
And anyway, who needs powers? I’ve seen human beings do some pretty amazing stuff in my time.
What about our armed forces in Iraq, who risk their lives daily in the name of peace?
Or the New York firemen, who saved hundreds of people from the burning wreckage of the Twin Towers in 2001, or the doctors and nurses who treated the victims of the London 7/7 bombings in 2005?
What about the single mother who works night and day to provide a home and food for her children and never takes a break?
Or how about the man who spent his life raising awareness of HIV, in the hope he could spare others from hearing the words: “It’s positive”?
Are we so different from the characters in the comics?
I’ll never look good in lycra, and I’ll never be able to read minds or hurl boulders (although I really wish I could), but despite this, are we not all — in our own small way — real-life heroes?
We all wear some sort of mask.
From the woman who can’t let her partner see her without makeup, to the hard-bitten cynic who secretly just wants to be loved.
The life and soul of the party who never feels more alone than when they’re in a room full of people.
The guy who says ‘I’m fine’ when asked how he is — when he’s anything but.
Yes, masks are a fact of everyday life.
I saw my trans friend, Mandi, the other night — a gentle soul with the dictionary definition of a singsong Irish accent. Lovely to talk to, lovelier to listen to.
Mandi has, for some time, wavered between knowing she doesn’t want to appear to the world as the man she was wrongly born, but lacking the confidence to present herself fully as a woman in every day life.
But she turned up that night looking absolutely beautiful.
At some point in the three or so weeks since I last saw her, she has transformed into some sort of red-headed Diana Ross.
Her hair was loose from its usual scraped-back ponytail and was sitting to her shoulders in lovely natural waves, she’d had a fringe cut, a subtle copper colour put in her hair and her eyelashes tinted. In short, she looked utterly gorgeous.
“I’m going to the hospital in a few weeks for my first consultation, hopefully soon after that I can start hormone therapy and get electrolysis on my face.” she said. “I can’t afford to get my boobs done; it’s five grand I haven’t got, so I’m going to wait and do it properly.”
“I know people are going to stare but there comes a point when you just have to think, ‘fuck it’ and do what’s right for you.”
I neither advertise nor conceal the fact that I’m gay. I look relatively masculine and can pull off the straight/butch act if I’m in a rough area, or in unfamiliar company. But I don’t respond well to homophobia and I challenge anyone who’s seen me when I’m pissed off to tell me I can’t handle myself.
What I mean is that I never feel like I’m putting myself out there when I exit my front door. I don’t walk along the street feeling like I’m under the scrutiny of other pedestrians, wondering if anyone’s going to spot what makes me ‘different’ and jump on it.
If you were black in the 1950s and 60s you didn’t have the luxury of concealment. Insults and attacks, segregation, fear and hostility would have been part of your daily life.
Why are people still so scared of anyone different that they have to hide their fear behind a mask of stifled laughter, taunts and sometimes even aggression?
So I say this:
To the freaks and the weirdos, to those that don’t conform, the skinnys, the fatties, the shorties and the lankies. To the men with guyliner and the girls with tuxedos and painted-on stubble. To all those who refuse to go through life with a mask on.
I applaud you. I respect your fearlessness to turn round to the world and say “fuck you, I am who I am”.
And to Mandi — Godspeed on your journey. You inspire me.
So I ventured into the West End yesterday on a kamikaze shopping mission for Christmas presents.
I approach shopping, especially Christmas shopping, with the same mindset I approach having a full sexual health checkup. Get in, get it done and get out. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. And yesterday was no exception.
What struck me as I fought my way through the throngs of people and stood in endless queues to pay for stuff I couldn’t afford, was that nobody looked all that happy and festive. In fact quite the opposite, most just looked harrassed and lacking any real desire to be there. Including me.
Did I see anyone with a smile on their face yesterday?
In fact, I vividly remember one time about five years ago when I saw a full-on fight break out between two women in Tesco because one believed the other had pushed in front of her at the till.
Is this what Christmas has come to? A stressful, costly time of year we just need to deal with so we can get it out of the way? Is it now nothing more than a huge marketing machine designed to fill the pockets of the retailers and corporate fatcats?
A quick poll of my Facebook friends revealed that a large proportion of them are simply not bothered about this time of year.
Unless you’re religious, Christmas seems to have become nothing more than an obligation to be endured. The expense, the preparation, the feeling that unless you’re sat at a table full of people on December 25th wearing a ridiculous paper hat, you’re in some way sad and pathetic.
Certainly for a lot of my gay friends in London, the thought of travelling back to the bosom of their families and the bubble of small town living they so desperately tried to escape fills them with dread. Even if it’s just for a day or two.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of my Christmas-obsessed sister, having a red ‘X’ painted on my front door and my windows pelted with stones to the cries of ‘Scrooge!’ I have to say that up until yesterday evening, I haven’t really been in the mood for Christmas.
But something I read last night changed that for me.
In his beautifully poignant Letter To A Brazilian Brother In Law, my good friend, the ridiculously talented Paul Burston, updates Roberto, the brother of his husband Paulo, on how the brother Roberto has disowned for being gay is getting on.
I urge you to read it, and if you’re feeling jaded like I was, I hope it will remind you to be grateful for all the good things you have in life.
I feel for Paulo, and any other people out there who are spending Christmas estranged from families and loved ones because of feuds or lack of acceptance. I’m glad that Paul’s family are welcoming Paulo as one of their own this Christmas in Wales, and I hope he has a holiday to remember.
I’m outrageously lucky to have a loving family whom I can turn to whenever I need. It seems I lost sight of that temporarily as I got caught up in the cacophony of crowded shops, Santa hats and endless adverts set to the sound of sleigh bells, all trying to convince me to buy this product or that.
Presents don’t matter. None of my family are rolling in it this year. Instead, what I’m looking forward to is sitting down to a nice meal and celebrating the fact that we have our health and each other.
It’s been a year of amazing highs and crashing lows, and although I have some great memories, I also won’t be sorry to see it go.
Roll on 2010, a new year and a new decade.
And in the meantime – Happy Christmas to you all – whatever you’re doing.
Question: When is free speech not free speech?
Answer: When it’s oppression.
Like a lot of you, I’ve been following the recent debate about homosexuality and the death penalty on BBC Africa’s ‘Have Your Say’ forum with a curious mix of disgust and fascination.
I would never call myself a political kind of guy, and much as I don’t want to launch into some long winded diatribe about what I deem to be right and wrong, I have to say my piece.
Seriously, BBC – what were you thinking? Since when did it become acceptable to debate whether genocide is a valid option because a few superstitious barbarian leaders are getting their knickers in a twist over the fact that sometimes boys like doing each other?
Perhaps even more sickening (and worrying) are some of the follow up comments on the forum:
“Totally agree. Ought to be imposed in the UK too, ASAP. Bring back some respectable family values. Why do we have to suffer ‘gay pride’ festivals?” asked Chris in Guildford.
Because of people like you, you insipid moron.
It’s ironic that as an intelligent, well rounded gay man, I can’t naturally have what I would imagine to be equally intelligent, well rounded kids, yet bigoted halfwits like you are able to breed freely.
People like you are the reason I march at Pride every year. Why I’m proud to stand up and be counted alongside my gay brethren. People like you are like fuel to me; the reason I refuse to be bowed or cower and hide who I am.
You don’t like gay people? Well stop having gay babies, then.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute.
The BBC (the people that brought you Nick Griffin on Question Time – enough said) wanted to provoke discussion ahead of the latest edition of ‘Africa Have Your Say’. By creating such a sensation and publishing it as a forum, they’ve ensured the subsequent outcry takes the issue at hand and cleaves it into the public consciousness like an axe blow to the temple.
So let me put this one out there:
What if I took every instance of the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual in that article and replaced it with ‘Jew’? Would the BBC be so quick to allow free discussion? If the internet had been around in Hitler’s time, would we not have seen something shockingly similar in a forum about the Jewish community?
If we go with this line of thinking, validating the execution of homosexuals technically means that we should also think of the Holocaust as a ‘necessary measure’.
There are better ways of raising awareness. As my (straight) friend Simon so eloquently put it: “The fact that the BBC hosted this as discussion, rather than a straight condemnation of such an abhorrent and evil ‘law’ sickens me.”
And to the people of Uganda – there are much, much bigger things in this world you need to worry about than men having sex with each other.
War and famine, for instance.
Perhaps President Yoweri Museveni should look a little closer to home to see where the real problem with his country lies…