I went to the theatre yesterday and saw the brilliant production of The Pride at the Trafalgar Studios. It’s a play set in two eras, the present day and the 1950s with echoes of the historical horrors of the oppression of gay people versus echoes of what we have and don’t appreciate and the horrors of the oppressions we sometimes choose to inflict upon ourselves.
It’s a fantastic play and I won’t say much more for fear of spoiling it if you want to see it. I’d highly recommend it.
It made me ponder. Lots of things do. On talking to a friend recently we both laughingly talked about how being gay has become so much less exciting now it’s all out in the open and less clandestine. Both of us, jokingly, talked about how dull being gay is now and yearned for the secretive and furtive days when sex had an element of danger and there was a whole art surrounding the dangerous act of being a gay man.
Secret languages, knowing looks and basement dive bars all sound so exciting and almost romantic. Visions of buttoned up men in three piece suits, speaking gruffly in clipped tones as they undress and whip out outsized vintage genitals in dinghy back parlours with scuffed linoleum are daring and thrilling.
Nostalgia is so often skewed and we often yearn for something that didn’t exist. I imagine that the reality was far from my imaginings. There’s no joy in imprisonment, an inability to express yourself at all and terrors such as aversion therapy or being institutionalised and labelled as mentally sick and twisted simply for the way you were born. The joys of being rejected, vilified and hated are limited.
If I look back at my own life without a veil of nostalgia fogging the truth, I recall churning anxiety and terror. Living with an older man at the age of 18 in 1989, I was three years below the archaic age of consent of 21. This actually caused us both hideous anxieties.
On one occasion we had a burglary in the flat we lived in and were panic stricken about having the police round in case they realised we were lovers. I remember ignorance, bullying and no go areas of the city. I remember the boarded up windows of our small city’s gay bar. They couldn’t have glass because it would get broken at least once a week by marauding gangs of blokes. It was a common occurrence to be in the bar and the D.J. would suddenly turn up the music to drown out the sounds of a gang of blokes hammering on the boards and shouting abuse. I remember not daring to touch in the street or even to look into each other’s eyes for too long in a bar or cafe.
I think I’ll try to keep my nostalgia in check for now. I suppose we have the best of both worlds now. The modern gay man can be more open, mostly (I’m not naive enough to believe that rampant prejudice doesn’t still exist and we’ve a long way to go yet) and live the life he chooses. He can also choose clandestine and dirty too; loitering round cruising grounds and risking arrest if that’s what floats his boat. Of course that’s a simplistic view. The reasons people choose to carry out dangerous acts are multi-factorial.
For now, I’ll restrict my nostalgia to clothing and my collection of 50’s china and doff my cap in respect to all those who’ve gone before and made life better for me now. Now those 1950’s gays: they sure wore a mean cravat.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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