Am back in London now, having completed the West Highland Way a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, Operation: Find Gay Men in the Scottish Highlands was a big FAIL. Other than the sole unconfirmed sighting which I reported in my last blog post, I failed to locate any non-heteros on my hike. I tell myself that’s ok. It might have been a weather thing.
See, like most other people, gays seem to emerge more visibly when the weather improves. Since it was miserable driving wind and rain for 50% of my time in Scotland (it’s Scotland, after all), I don’t blame the gays for staying inside. In fact, I don’t blame ANYONE for staying inside.
In contrast, it’s now Easter weekend, and here in London we’re experiencing unseasonal summery weather – constant sun, temperatures over 26 C… Ha, take that, Spain! Wandering past my local gay bar, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, I was pleased to see the nearby grassy hill packed with gay men sunning themselves and enjoying a social pint of lager. Oh yes, the sun’s out in full force, and so are the gay men.
In fact, so busy are the streets of Soho these days, that the other night, I was even turned away from a gay club. I repeat: I was turned away from a gay club. Can you imagine? I could have turned to the doorman, flashed my business card, and said: “Excuse me, do you know who I am? My blog is thefaghag.com!” But I decided to be nice and humble, retained my anonymity, and instead went along with my friends to a much more inclusive venue, appropriately called The Friendly Society. (Interior deco includes: Barbie dolls pinned to the ceilings, chandeliers made out of ornate handbags, The Sound of Music projected onto the wall.)
Admittedly, the club we were turned away from was the infamous G-A-Y Bar on Old Compton Street, which sometimes operates on a membership policy. Said membership policy clearly is meant to exclude five straight-looking girls like us, who may just be there to ogle the fit and shirtless torsos of gay men in a safe environment. The truth is, we weren’t going to just ogle men! We had to meet some gay friends who were already inside. But the rules of London nightclubs are harsh. If you’re the wrong the gender, you’re not really wanted.
Everyone knows that a group of five men trying to enter a straight London nightclub on a busy night will have trouble getting in. Group of five nicely-dressed women? No problem. You might even get a drink on the house, depending on how desperate they are. It’s simple economics, supply and demand. Straight men go where the women are. If there’s too many men in a nightclub, the women will get scared away, and no one wants a sausage-fest. At least in the straight world. In the G-A-Y world, a sausage-fest is apparently all they want! So it only makes sense that straight-looking women don’t factor at all into homo-economics, and get turned away from the door.
It’s comforting to know that in this day and age, when you can’t visibly exclude potential clients on the basis of race or sexual orientation, it’s still ok to discriminate on the basis of gender. (I haven’t tried disability yet. I might test this by rocking up to a nightclub in a wheelchair and demanding entrance … After all, paraplegics have the right to dance to cutting-edge DJs, too!)
But are today’s entertainment venues really as politically correct as we’d like them to be, even on the trendy issue of sexual orientation? Apparently not. A few blocks away from the heaving gay district of Old Compton Street sits a pub called The John Snow. This pub has been the center of much media attention recently. On April 13th, two gay men were kicked out of The John Snow for kissing there while on a date. Apparently, a man claiming to be the landlord told them: “I don’t want to see that. It offends me.” Shortly afterwards, a lady claiming to be the landlady said: “You need to leave. You’re being obscene.”
Yes, shock and horror. The BBC reported this, the gay community got motivated, and two days later, over 800 people pledged to attend a “kiss-in” protest at the pub. The John Snow closed at 3pm that day, to avoid the kiss-in, and consequently lost a lot of potential business on a Friday night. Protestors continued with their plan outside the pub, resulting in a touching display of gay solidarity on a warm spring evening. (see photos above)
When a second “kiss-in” was scheduled, The John Snow shut down again. So far, there has been no comment from the owners. But for a pub which used to be very popular with the after-work (and generally pro-gay) media crowd in Soho, this could be their death knell. You go, gay activists! I certainly won’t be drinking there again.
This is a much more encouraging result than the recent East End debacle which took place in reaction to the appearance of some anonymous homophobic stickers in that part of London. I’ve been following this bizarre situation for a few months, and I’ll try to summarize:
1) Mid-February: Anti-gay stickers mysteriously appear in London’s heavily Muslim East End. These declare a “gay-free zone” and proclaim: “Arise and warn. And fear Allah; Verily Allah is severe in punishment.” Some believe the stickers were planted by far-right groups to foment discord between the gays and the Muslims in this part of London.
2) A day later: The Muslim Council of Britain, the East London Mosque, and the mayor of Tower Hamlets issue a joint statement condemning the stickers and reaffirming their belief in equality
3) A few days later: Some pro-gay campaigners respond by removing the stickers and replacing them with ones that say “Love.”
4) Over the next few weeks: A bunch of gay journalists write various columns attacking the stickers, our tolerance towards Muslims, the far-right and each other.
5) March: East End Gay Pride plans to hold a march in early April to show solidarity against the stickers.
6) Mid-March: The East End Gay Pride team falls apart. Imaan, a gay Muslim group, outs one of the EEGP organizers as a member of the far-right English Defence League. Other pro-gay groups, OutEast and Rainbow Hamlets, accuse the EEGP of being a front for the far-right, and EEGP responds to these “personal vendettas” by cancelling the march.
7) April 4th: 30 people march anyway in a small East End Gay Pride demonstration.
8) Last week: An 18-year-old is arrested in connection with posting the original stickers. It is unknown whether he is Muslim or far-right or any of the above.
I bet you that 18-year-old is thinking he’s rather a genius. All he has to do is design, produce and distribute a bunch of stickers anonymously and he’s somehow gotten the gay community in the East London to self-implode.
Is anyone else confused by all this? I am. So much subterfuge and splintering… Who knew there were so many ways to be homophobic? Or so many ways to be pro-gay?
For a movement that’s meant to be about including gays in the mainstream, there certainly is a lot of exclusivity going on in the community and in the way it organizes itself. I don’t necessarily blame them for starting it. Exclusivity breeds further exclusivity. Everyone wants to mark their turf. However, “further exclusivity” among the gay community does not really seem to be the way forward.
Hey, I have an idea: maybe G-A-Y Bar should print out stickers that say “Straight-Free Zone” and post them around its doors, and then 800 straight people can protest by — Wait a second, on any given summer night, you can walk two blocks and find hundreds of straight people kissing in Leicester Square anyway. Ho hum….
But just to screw with everyone’s minds, I’m going to start a new club called S-T-R-A-I-G-H-T, invite all my gay friends over, and then when straight couples start kissing, tell them to go over and say: “That’s obscene and you need to stop.” But don’t worry: paraplegics of all sexual orientations would be most welcome. In fact, they would even get a special VIP area all to themselves.