Archives for category: Queer Art and Culture

In a week when the UN criticised Brunei for planning to stone gays to death and the first prosecutions in Uganda were announced since it introduced new draconian laws against homosexuality, the very public spat between some members of the transgender community in the US and the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race may seem trivial in comparison; nonetheless the use of appropriate labels, language and political correctness has been a continuing thorny debate in the LGBTQI community and the Women’s Movement since the dawn of consciousness.

I’m not going to get drawn into commenting in detail on the specifics of the rights and wrongs of using the words shemale and tranny – which bizarrely went so far as getting transgender rockstar Jayne County banned from Facebook in the middle of the wider kerfuffle, as language use varies between the US and Europe and I may be missing local nuances. But I will say that I can remember a time when I would have been deeply offended by someone calling me queer, a word which I now feel is an entirely comfortable description of where I stand in relation to the conventions and politics of  a wider heteronormative society, which just goes to show that the use and power of language can change.

Of course, there’s an unanswerable case for condemning blatant homophobia, transphobia, sexism and racism (anything I missed?) perpetrated by people who “aren’t us”, and  rigorously questioning our own use of stereotypes and vocabulary which we regard as otherwise unacceptable; but there are times when individually and collectively we need to lighten up, recognise irony, and most importantly, explore the overall underlying intention of what’s going on. Responses to the latest controversy have caused uproar amongst those who would speak for sections of the the transgender community in the US, and I leave you to make your own judgement.

The other day, in a separate and happily less-combative breakfast-table discussion around transgender issues (yes, dear reader, I have them) with appropriately-empowered participants, I was reminded of how things were in the mid-70s when the sadly-missed Pat Van Twest and Jackie Thrupp were at the heart of the ground-breaking British women’s theatre group Sistershow (which I briefly joined – at Jackie’s insistence – appearing as a bored bearded drag queen in a bad wig and floppy hat, looking not unlike a tacky version of Austria’s Eurovision contender Conchita Wurst).  Jackie and Pat were acutely aware of the risks of taking ourselves too seriously and thereby missing the point of what we are really seeking to achieve.

Here’s Pat talking about some of their early activity inspired by their concerns about the way the Women’s Movement was developing; it made me laugh, and realise how just much they influenced my outlook on life, for which I am forever grateful.

Advertisements

Love it or hate it, but ever since Dana International claimed her prize in Birmingham in a Gaultier gown trimmed with parrots, the Eurovision Song Contest can legitimately claim that it has done its bit for LGBTQ visibility. In recent years – partly because of the dreadful voting system and the way former Eastern bloc countries have tried to use it to bolster prestige – despite the scale of the event and viewing figures, it’s lost its allure a little and never quite recaptured that frisson of transgressive danger it enjoyed on Dana’s night of triumph in Birmingham in 1998. However, it might just do it again in 2014.

The decision of Austria’s ORF to send drag performer Conchita Wurst to Copenhagen is what could make the difference. Conchita is not the first drag queen to represent their country on the Eurovision stage; in fact, in the light of recent events, it’s worth recalling that Verka Serduchka nearly won for Ukraine in 2007, although this year’s entrant Maria Yaremchuk (not a drag act) can’t be certain of getting quite the same  level of support from countries of the former Soviet Union when it comes to voting this year. Just recently it was reported that the hugely popular  Verka Serduchka may have been dropped as a star act on Russian Saturday night TV because of the Putin government’s laws outlawing “homosexual propaganda”.

Conchita Wurst can sing, and the song will please anyone who likes Bond themes, but as any Eurovision fan will tell you, that doesn’t necessarily make it a winner.  What’s clear though, is that ORF’s decision to send Conchita to Sweden has resulted in an outpouring of homophobia in social media, and serious attempts in both Belarus and Russia to have Austria’s performance blocked from broadcast on the night.  To the Austrian broadcaster’s credit, they haven’t just issued a dull corporate response, but launched a viral campaign which jokily challenges the anti LGBTQ prejudice being shown to their entrant. They want you to knit a fake beard “for tolerance”, and have produced a promotional video to the soundtrack of their own version of Pharrell’s “Happy”.  Douze points.

In the context of Russia’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, and the increasing confidence of those who seek to roll back equality, even if you don’t get out the knitting needles, voting for Conchita – who is openly gay and consistently makes a stand for diversity – in the semi-final on May 8th, so as to ensure Austria is there on the big night (and maybe beyond), is something worth doing, even if you don’t give a ding-a-dong for the ESC.

1480631_713380028679674_60021205_nFor the past few months, New York’s The Museum at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) has been home to a fascinating exhibition which looks at the relationship between fashion and LGBT culture over the centuries. There’s much more to this than provocative stage clothes (though they have their place) and couture, and even though the exhibition itself closed last month, there’s still a great web site to explore.

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk is perhaps surprisingly the first exhibition of its kind to look at the topic. For those of us who’ve been active in the LGBT community since the 70s or who look for gay references in music and movies there’s plenty which will be familiar, but this is much more than just a trip down memory lane.

%d bloggers like this: