Undetectable: A Gay Poem 2012/2018
by Duncan Roy
Don’t let climate change ruin your gay wedding.
Nor fear of deportation or student loans. Don’t let the government shut down beleaguer your special day.
Nor think of drones killing gay men on foreign shores. Not in my name.
Dream my dear, of the $160,000 surrogate baby you really can’t afford. White eggs and spermatozoa Amex paid for.
Grown in a poor brown woman whose name attorneys erased. She’ll never be known to the unborn child.
Goldman bonus spent on more Botox. Calm your troubled brow with restylane. Fill the lines they put there with relentless bullying and casual homophobia.
You weren’t looking for love. A painted finger nail emoji on your Tinder profile, hoping for a merger and acquisition. Perfect in the Pines. Helping him fuck another guy. Guiding him into the gaping hole like a stallion. Prepped and raw. Bare back monkey.
Marrying a fellow American now, you need not stress, ICE officers will not be your groomsman. Not today.
Thank Jesus Christ Almighty,
Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act is no more.
They can not stop you, nor turn you from the hospital as your husband lays dying from a lethal Fentanyl overdose. Undetectable. No longer woke.
Found in the sauna, wearing his combat boots, multiply penetrated, cream pied, still bound and dripping, eyes open, calling out another man’s name, swaying gently in the black polyester sling.
Enjoying your honeymoon in the leather bars of Berlin.
They are deporting thousands of undocumented workers in the USA. Friends and family disappear. The cranberry bogs remain un-harvested. The schools stricken by grieving children. Police officers didn’t think it would be this way. They couldn’t put a face to the men and women Trump wanted to deport. Simple, honest people caught up in the merciless trawl. They didn’t realise their friends were breaking the law. They didn’t understand the depth of hatred their fellow citizens harboured for brown and black people.
Hackney. East London finally puts paid to the ridiculous notion I can leave my car unlocked without being burgled. Yes. I am that man. Regardless of the stolen cash, life in East London is inspiring. Like the first time you visit deep Brooklyn, you understand who millennials are and what they prioritize. Bushwick, going there with Paris McGarry and her boyfriend Tom. The streets were buzzin, the restaurants overflowing, the music bursting out of every window over the cobbled streets. Huge lofts once filed with machinery now house tech aspirants and what, I think, is the difference? Intellectual rather than mechanical industry.
Hackney has exactly the same energy. Fit, bearded men cycling through the park discussing crypto currency on their cell phones. They look insane, talking to themselves, eyes fixed on the road, avoiding my dogs who are inexplicably drawn to cycle paths. I feel alive here, which is odd as I am facing death head on right now. I am optimistic even though I feel the curtain closing about me, taking my final bow. I sit in Shorditch House all day drinking water and coffee and eating sour jelly candy. I buy boots in APC and wonder why. I mean, I don’t need anything. I am rootless, I am free.
Going to NA meetings all over the East End. I am drawn to the drama I suppose. I meet cool people and when they read about me are less eager to judge my life, my exploits whilst American addicts damn you forever. You lose your grip once and Americans watch with glee as you fall from the side of the building. Falling like a crazy base jumper. You took a risk… it didn’t pay off. Your fingers slip from the polished marble. The English addict is less determined to make you pay.
However, NA is not very productive in London. The people may be kind but the programme stinks. Swimming around in their own shit. NA isn’t group therapy. Nobody cares about your feelings. Addicts repeat their using tragedies again and again day after day. They have no solution, grasping hold of their pain, reliving the insanity, indulgently spewing over anyone who will listen. They attend endless meetings 90/90 but will not work the 12 steps. Of course, after a few months, they relapse then after another spectacular ‘rock-bottom’ claw their way back into the rooms… continuing the cycle of despair. I keep reminding myself not to slip back into bad habits. No catastrophic thinking, no indulgence. No. No. No.
I’m in Climpson’s the local coffee shop trying to write a treatment. Broadway Market. I know the fishmonger and the book seller. The baristas know my name. I’m writing a gay Fatal Attraction. Crazy older lady meets younger gay guy at AA meeting, she’s a hoarder, he takes pity on her, cleans her house, helps her with her life, she lends him money and falls in love with him… then tries to destroy him when he refuses her advances. It’s waiting to be written. This story, this slice of life upstate. Donna, you crazy witch! I took Donna to a gay party, she wasn’t impressed when I talked to the other guys. I took her to Abby Rockefeller’s farm. She wasn’t impressed when I talked to other women. I felt her eyes boring into me. We left.
The dull thud returns, at the base of my sternum. The pain wraps around my body from my stomach to the base of my back. The acid reflux, overwhelming tiredness and irritability. I had more tests. There are problems that need resolved but the doctors are too damn eager to slice into me. I already had my gall bladder and an isolated tumor on my adrenal gland removed.
The doctor is thorough and uncompromising. I revisit all the horrors of pancreatic cancer. I look at potential remedies, of which there are few. The very worst scenario is called the Whipple procedure which is also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy, a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (duodenum), the gallbladder and the bile duct.
They say to me: these symptoms are found in women. They say, it may be malignant, it may be benign, it may be somewhere in between. The diagnosis isn’t good enough. It’s too damn vague. I lay on my bed after our long walk and fall into a deep sleep. I breathe deeply, clearing my mind of everything I think I know. I remind myself of the solution, the literature. I say, what will be will be. Divorcing myself from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives.
During the day I face indecision. I may not correctly determine which course of action to take. I ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision. I relax, I don’t struggle. I’m surprised by how often the right answer comes after practicing these principles in all my affairs.
Mario Testino was a friend of ours. He had a studio in an abandoned hospital on Soho Square. Scott Crolla, Georgina Godley… and others were frequent guests. My boy friend in 1981 was Mario’s long time friend and collaborator Patrick Kinmonth.
Patrick lived in a tiny apartment in Holland Park, deliberately disheveled, dusty yet filled with beautiful object. The place was brutally cold in the winter and a furnace in the summer. Patrick, according to the artist Craigie Aitchison dobbed me in to the police when they were looking for me to ask questions about my credit card and why I hadn’t paid the bill. It was Patrick who lent me money to buy my Peter Doig and it was Patrick who encouraged me to make art. He was a vicious snob, exquisitely beautiful and at that time worked for Vogue magazine. He amused us all by mimicking Mario’s Peruvian lilt. Patrick is a deft impersonator. The problem with Patrick? Nothing ever came of his own talent. He lives with the painfully shy food photographer Tessa Traeger in the West Country. He designs opera sets for out-of-the-way operas but never became the great anything everyone thought he might become.
The last time I saw Mario and Patrick we were in LA at The Chateau Marmont. I was having dinner in the garden they were having a party in the lounge with a bunch of gorgeous boy/men models. I sat beside Patrick for a moment but I didn’t stay long. He scolded me. I made amends for some indiscretion and I left. Mario looked at me disdainfully. Patrick enjoys being on Mario’s winning team. He wrote the forward to Mario’s book and he styles the most interesting shoots. Neither of them wanted me hanging around. You’ve seen pictures of young girls on a yacht wearing bikinis, oggled by old men… this was Mario’s gay equivalent. I’d already ruined things by talking to him and Patrick, bathed in Mario’s reflected glory, wanted me gone. He looked down his aquiline nose and told me I could have made so much more of myself. Yeah, I thought… if you hadn’t worked with the establishment to destroy me. I probably could.
You know why old men put young girls on yachts? You’d think… so the girls can’t escape. No, it’s so their old men friends can’t join the party. I returned to my dinner in the garden. Soon I saw Mario, Peter Pan like… screaming and laughing down the stairs with his crew. Patrick lagging behind like a heavy train on an old dress.
I’ve never blogged about Mario. Now, within the context of the salacious revelations and accusations leading to his spectacular firing from the Conde Nast creative family I revisit my association with him. Let me say immediately, I didn’t know anything untoward was happening. I had never heard anything. The towel series he shot with models were obviously designed to get the model naked and to legitimize Mario’s pervy intentions but I never heard from models who worked with him they felt uncomfortable.
Many of those same models who worked with Mario were not so discreet about their working relationship with Bruce Weber. For over a decade or more I heard story after story from young men who had worked with Bruce and the discomfort they felt being ‘relaxed’ with his hands on their bodies, the ‘breathing exercise’ or asked to take off their shorts when they were alone with Bruce. I heard again and again about the notorious ‘private archive’ for which Bruce said he wanted their naked picture. I heard how he tantalized young men with lucrative campaigns and the promise of a life beyond their wildest dreams. I heard how he set models against each other, how within minutes of the private naked shots… would change his mind about the campaign promise he’d made, playing with them, manipulating them.
Yet, it seems, many models were perfectly happy to have their bodies used by Bruce. Yesterday I spoke to a male super model I know in NYC. Last year, after a few drinks, he described in detail how Bruce molested him, removed his underwear and had taken pictures of him naked. I asked if he was willing to come forward, speak publicly. He told me I should be ashamed of myself for suggesting he told tales on Bruce. Thus we understand how Bruce, inspiring loyalty in others, groomed them for sexual molestation.
I’ve had my run ins with Bruce over the years. I asked him to take the Dorian Gray portrait. He curtly suggested that I wasn’t the sort of person he could do business with. Oh… how the tables have turned.
Sunday. I had a late lunch in Hackney with a young gay artist. We talked about Mario and Bruce. He asked the difference between flirtation and harassment. He was worried his flirtation might be misconstrued. How would he know? Of course, one asks ones self: why doesn’t he know? He’s a bright lad but his white male privilege is so ingrained he cannot differentiate between the two. He asked if the men now making the complaints were somehow complicit. Many gay men make excuses for Bruce and Mario habitually devaluing our lives by suggesting the men who agree to work or consort with us are somehow suspect, complicit. We remain baffled by the notion of consent. They knew what they were getting themselves into.
“Consent, that’s for straight people? Women? Isn’t it?” He looks confused.
We talk about the abuse of power between men (beyond top and bottom although that too) and how our anti social behaviour and lack of morality has been largely ignored by heterosexual society firstly before equality, because straight people found it distasteful and didn’t really care. Then, after equality straight people were too embarrassed or confused to question how we lived in case they were accused of homophobia or insensitivity. Recent gay celebrity scandals have shocked many of our straight allies, realizing they don’t know anything much about their gay friends at all. Like rats we live discreet and cautious lives just a few feet from theirs, scurrying from one assignation to another.
We’ve done a great job blending in. For many years the only evidence we existed was when the police arrested, tried and sent us to jail for being gay. Cottaging. Tricking. Dressing up. Without occasional mention in the newspapers our gay lives would remain completely invisible. I broke the law simply by being alive and sexually active. Straight acting wasn’t a fetish, it was strategic and could save you from a beating or death. Ironically, this parallel life served many of us very well. As a young British gay man I enjoyed social mobility, sexual freedom and access to extraordinary financial opportunities my straight peers could only dream of. Yet, I paid the price for all of those benefits by surrendering my moral imperative.
Paris Hilton is maligned in the press for saying gay men on gay hook up apps are ‘disgusting’. Which, after being sent 50 or so asshole pics this week… one might be inclined to agree.
With equality comes responsibility. Some fought hard to enjoy marriage equality. We fought hard in the UK to have homophobic laws like section 28 overturned. In the UK these laws were ratified in Parliament and are hard to revoke. We are tentatively exploring a new moral landscape. Morals defined by heterosexuals, most gay men are unprepared for these changes and how this shift toward ‘normalcy’ may affect our lives. Simply, our lifestyle compared with that of the average heterosexual may not bear scrutiny post Weinstein and Mario, Bryan, Bruce and Kevin may just be the very tip of the iceberg.
Entitled, affluent gay white men are especially morally impoverished. Many still live secret, compartmentalized and shameful lives blighted by addiction, alcoholism and mental illness. To many straight people we may seem carefree, highly entertaining, a cause to celebrate ‘gay pride’ and drink rainbow cocktails… but, on our own with our second screens we indulge less salubrious, secret lives using hook up apps as the portal, through which many enter a dark and disgusting world of chem sex, lies, cheating and despair.
They say, everyone lies on-line. We live in lying times. Acceptable lies are now morally ring fenced. The lies most gay men tell before they come out are perfectly… acceptable. A habit we are loathed to break. Most gay men are addicted to lying. Only yesterday I met a closeted 25-year-old gay man. I asked him why he was in the closet? He described the same feelings of shame and despair I felt nearly 40 years ago. Some things never seem to change… however much I am told, ‘it doesn’t matter, nobody cares’. I explained to him why he needs to come out of the closet. He needs to stop lying. The more he lies the less respect he will have for the truth. As I mentioned in my previous blog gay men get into nasty habits around the truth and the sooner we embrace the truth the less damage is done to our morality and our integrity.
The last time I saw Mario he was skipping like a teenager down the stairs at The Chateau Marmont surrounded by beautiful teens. Like Peter Pan, a 60-year-old man unable to face the truth about his failing body and his failing ability to make good decisions. He could not stop himself grabbing them by the pussy. He is the same as Trump. Made of the same stuff. Gripped by power, fame and entitlement he understood himself to be unassailable. Nothing would ever bring him down… his legacy would glitter in perpetuity. The dream maker, the fantasist, the story-teller… the liar. Conjuring a universe of beauty, Mario forsook a life of loving relationships for an abuse of power.
Anna Wintour, who I confronted publicly about her reticence to stand up to Weber, made this statement last week.
Today, allegations have been made against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, stories that have been hard to hear and heartbreaking to confront. Both are personal friends of mine who have made extraordinary contributions to Vogue and many other titles at Condé Nast over the years, and both have issued objections or denials to what has emerged. I believe strongly in the value of remorse and forgiveness, but I take the allegations very seriously, and we at Condé Nast have decided to put our working relationship with both photographers on hold for the foreseeable future.
Of course Anna Wintour is torn, it is hard to align what she hears and what she knows of her friends Mario and Bruce. She is rightfully appalled, but thankfully for her she doesn’t know the half of it… she merely glimpsed, briefly through the portal and into the dark heart of every gay man I know.
There is something lost and broken about a small town. Not on its surface. Beneath, where the new working class flex what little muscle it has. Withered by austerity and the banking crisis, lifting their weary faces and skinny fists toward the last of the watery sunlight.
Whitstable has always attracted freaks and frauds. Crooks and drifters. Before the gang of yummy mummies arrived with their plantation shutters, gumming up local stores with giant strollers… gangsters sat in Wheelers back room making deals. Far enough from London, close enough to get home for their tea.
Life is evenly divided between Whitstable my home town and the world I created elsewhere. You know, in the newspapers and on TV. To come home is a mixed blessing. My estranged brothers and frail mother have become litigants rather than family as I sue for my part in David’s will.
Even though Whitstable is a very small town one can totally miss seeing someone for decades. Yet, with very little effort, I saw my mother on the street. She looked animated, mid conversation with other mothers, presumably after dropping my nephew Oscar Roy at school. Frances Roy, Frances Spark, Fran. I don’t know what she calls herself nowadays. I walked closer, I tapped her on the shoulder… she turned to face me. I was shocked by how badly she has aged. The face I once adored is now smeared over her large skull, her features drawn, jowls and ear lobes drooping like melting tallow.
I was momentarily pleased to see her. I felt protective once again. I wanted to reassure her things were going to work out. I thought the violent abuse we received from David would somehow bond us forever. Sadly, she has never been anything other than utterly selfish. She may have once but now she no longer wants the best for me. I am a stranger to her.
Unplanned pregnancy, shame and derision have shaped who she is today. She learned nothing from her own story. She never made amends. She was never proud or encouraging of any of her children. The older we got the less interest she showed. She had no ambition, no desire, no love.
I used to make excuses for her. I’d tell therapists, “The nuns at the mother and baby home made her life miserable.” I explained to psychologists, “Her father was cruel, her mother insensitive.” “It was a different time.” “When she looks at me I reminded her of him.” I said. And all the while, unbeknownst to her, the world was changing. She told the doctor at the hospital, when I later read the notes, she was ashamed of me being so obviously gay… a gay child. The sight of me flouncing around upset David.
They tried to shut me down. The harder they tried the harder I fought back. They tried to cure me with anti psychotic drugs. They gave an 11-year-old gay child, badly abused at home… anti psychotic drugs.
I protected her from what others might say. I melted when she cried. She used her tears to avoid the truth. Any difficult subject… she would cry. One day I told her the crying wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to cry with her anymore. She stopped crying. She didn’t do it again. My mother does not deserve my protection. Sooner or later we are all owed the truth.
I was 22, I had a show in the West End. She didn’t take the train, she didn’t see the play. She couldn’t be anything other than embarrassed, four gay men talking about our gay lives. She didn’t see me at the Edinburgh Festival, she didn’t see me. She had excuses.
The next show, The Host performed in the Oyster Company great hall, my mother came with her sister Margaret and giggled in the back row ruining it for other people. She didn’t come to the ICA or Sadler’s Wells, she didn’t come to The Hen and Chickens. I don’t think she said a word when I won my place at a prestigious film school. To this day and to the best of my knowledge she has never seen any of my films.
I’ve never written about her in this blog, explored who she is or was. I never once described her casual homophobia. I wanted to believe she was a better person than she actually is. A better person than me. But she wasn’t… she accused my boyfriends of being gold diggers, made gay slurs about AIDS and ‘disgusting gay diseases’. She failed to ask about my relationships, my work and my life. When Joe and I bought a Porsche I was excited to show her.
She looked at it and said, “You ponce.”
That is the sort of woman she is. Yet, when she was homeless I let her have one of our homes… even though she was the one who walked out on David… taking nothing. Like so many women, she left it behind. She walked out on my inheritance.
I have loyally hidden her true nature. In the film AKA I did not reveal she colluded with my abusive father. I continually let her off the hook.
When she called to tell me my brothers had been sent to prison, she blamed the police, she blamed everyone but them. My brother Martin Roy sends an abusive note to my lawyer. I do not read it. He storms into the solicitor’s office and demands to see him.
Whitstable High Street. She’s nicely dressed. I tap her on the shoulder and say hello. She looks shocked. She looked beaten. She holds onto her friend, she links arms… as if I am going to be rip her away from them. I ask if we can have coffee. She shakes her head and looks like she might cry. “I don’t want to talk to him.” The other mothers try encouraging her to have coffee with me. They advise her to talk it through but my Mother dare not do that because she has been lying so long… she knows if she accepts a coffee it is time to tell the truth.
Her friends say, “She speaks so highly of you.”
“Really?” I reply. “She scarcely speaks to me at all.”
I ask them if my mother Frances Roy mentioned to them she did not tell me my father was dying of cancer, she did not tell me he had died and then concealed his funeral from us all. She grips hold of the other woman frantic, terrified. Her brain racing for a solution. Fear. I return to the car. She runs up the street as fast as her 73-year-old legs can carry her.
New Years Eve we sat in a small group in his sitting room. Whitstable people. An MBE, an artist, the celebrity gardener, the Michelin star chef, the academy award nominee and a couple of imported diplomats… friends of our host. He is wearing a djellaba. Black linen, a rust colored silk shawl and Saudi slippers. At midnight we toast the new year and hug. I check insta and snap chat. They are toasting in an ice palace in Reykjavik and the Sydney opera house. Sam Taylor Johnston posts random snaps of black men preparing her dinner and black men entertaining them with dancing.
The following day, New Years Day… we reconvene at Windy Corner Stores. At another table I see a man whose name I no longer remember, he has piercing blue eyes, he’s in a local band. I stare at him. He knows who I am. Like looking into the eyes of ones captor. Throughout my childhood this blue-eyed man mercilessly bullied me using gay slurs. I thought to myself, should I say something? He knows me. He knows what he did. I say nothing. I just stare.
A few days later I post this on the Overheard in Whitstable… Anything Goes, Facebook page.
Returning to Whitstable has been a positive experience. However, I’ve seen a few people around town who were openly and violently homophobic to me as I was growing up. I have never been ashamed of being gay and those who resorted to homophobia were the kind who resented ‘openly gay’ men, us who refused to be cowed by their hate. These people may now explain away their homophobia as a cultural phenomena but as with historical child abuse, historical homophobia must be answered to. Attitudes may have changed but the effects of homophobia should be acknowledged. If I see anyone in the town who was homophobic in my past I will remind them of their past cruelty. Most gay men in their 50’s either forsook marriage or children or waited until late in life. We lived through an aids epidemic. Whilst that was happening graffiti was written on the side of my house in island wall, it said: aids available here. LGBT people do not have to hide who we are and who we love. The privileged white men I have confronted so far claim they are the victim because I had the audacity to remind them of their hate. The homophobe, the racist, the misogynist is not the victim. Those who peddle hate must own it and make amends.
Of course, this note punctured Whitstable’s fragile, dark heart. I am harangued and homophobicly abused. Along side the homophobic abuse, energetic white people assure me nobody cares anymore if you are black, gay, fat… etc. As long as you keep quiet about it. If you complain… these illogicals demand you pipe down. It is still typical for white heterosexual people to shut down gay people who have the audacity to share their negative experience and challenge homophobia.
Of course, being a public figure I am used to the abuse. I have never been compliant.
I was most interested to hear from one commentator, Kris Howell. The rest: feckless female trolls, thin-lipped and spray tanned, their dyed hair in lank bangs. When I returned fire with equally vile invective they became outraged, like prodding a termites nest. The little termites ran around screaming.
For my amusement I suggested to one morbidly obese woman she may be in receipt of benefits. An excellent way to upset an oik. I found a picture of her wedding, her huge pink body wrapped up in acres of synthetic fabric. Her husband, pallid and inert. She told me she owned three cars. ‘You think I’d be on benefits with £70,000 worth of cars in front of my house.” It brought into sharp contrast just how different their world is from mine. I looked at my watch and smiled.
Kris Howell, better known as Les (ironically he also changed his name) caught my interest because once reeled in said exactly what I expected to hear. He wanted me to know he had bullied me not because I am gay… but because I am me.
He refused to differentiate between the two. As if the two could be separated.
Compliant homosexuals put up with being picked on, bullied, imprisoned and generally kicked around. They learn how to be invisible. Those of us who refuse to go quietly are branded difficult, hated for not keeping quiet. Other gay men who play the game as prescribed by straight white people are just as offended when a fellow gay rocks the boat. As the trolls railed and raged over my post the local gay hairdresser pinned his colors to their mast not realizing he had been co-opted into a seething pit of homophobes.
Les Howell refused, despite reasoned argument, to grasp that being gay had defined me, and I have good reason to be angry and better reason to fight back. How did a ten-year old me deal with being repeatedly called pooftah and bleached nigger at school? I was keenly aware of both racism and homophobia. We were taught by the vicar of St Alphage that the black boy sitting naked before Christ was a savage and would not know how to use a toilet. My uncle Norman confirmed this by pointing at black children, reminding me they were filthy savages.
Remember, even though homosexuality had been decriminalized by Woolfenden in 1965 gay men were still being arrested for consensual sex well into the 1980’s. I was born a criminal and I had every reason to be angry but that anger, as the years passed, turned me into something I would have preferred not to have been.
Yet, as Les Howell spewed his vitriol, so full of hate… like most enraged fools, he lost his grasp on reason. It was perfectly ok to remind the world of a man’s indiscretions he said, but not his triumphs. He told me he was law-abiding but balked when I reminded him both his friends Stuart and Martin Roy had been in prison for worse crimes than spending money on a credit card.
Like most fascists his argument have nothing to do with logic and what he may or may not think of me… and everything to do with who he is and the resentments he carries. Hate, like water, will find its level. It will seep into everything and rot where ever it remains.
He wanted me to know I was a liar. He said, “You were a liar before you went to prison and you’ve never learned your lesson.” I wondered what the lesson should be? And I thought, you know, lying is a particularly gay thing. I called Stephen Fry and we talked about gays and lying. The genesis of our fantastical lives. He had also gone to prison. He had stolen credit cards from other people, I had merely run up a huge bill on my own credit card. The difference? He would still have gone to prison in 2018, I would not.
Why do gay men lie? We lie to save ourselves. We lie until we come out of the closet. The longer we are in the closet the more we lie, the easier it becomes, there is no longer a taboo. The truth is negotiable.
The following day the trolls were chattering on-line like agitated chimps. Upset ’cause I had removed the thread. “Has he tagged you?” The wannabe silver back asks the girl with thin lips. He is holding up his metaphorical pool cue reminding everyone he won the argument. He won the fight. They talked cryptically about rinsing and reeling people in and unicorns. The woman in the synthetic wedding dress said she was sick of being maligned (my word not hers). A couple of them private messaged me in the hope I would re-engage.
Anything Goes’ on this Facebook site simply means: trolls and their dumb friends get to spew hate at anyone they feel they can bully and misinterpret, using xenophobia, misogyny, racism and homophobia as their weapons of choice. Their lives do not bear scrutiny. They are neither patriots nor evolved. They hide behind fake accounts because their truth is unbearable. They lie yet cannot bear anything but the truth in others, they insult but cannot stand being insulted.
They are kids in the school toilet. Writing notes and passing them around, scrawling over pictures, insulting who they believe are more vulnerable.
Dealing with the mass market can be very revealing. The British general public, like the woman in the white synthetic dress, are presently emboldened by Brexit.
The following day I had tea with Barry Green at his hotel, The Continental. His son Richard was my best friend in the 80’s. We talked about Brexit. He told me he was a keen leaver and I asked him why. I’ve always respected Barry. I want somebody I respect to convince me Brexit is good for the country. I want to be wrong about Brexit. Barry Green was the second successful business owner, Susanna Atkins at The Goods Shed in Canterbury was the first, who came out to me as a stalwart brexiteer.
Actually George Wilson, our local Scottish millionaire, was the third but we didn’t get past talking planning permission.
I am fascinated by their Brexit. How it works for them? Susanna’s family (sons and cousins) had to bring in the harvest last year because they couldn’t get anyone to work on their farm. Susanna thought it was great, she suggested we all bring in the harvest. As it was, long ago. I could not imagine the sickly woman in the synthetic wedding dress on her knees in the fields. She might have a word or two to say about that when the local aristo land owner requisitions her, dragging her screaming from her smart phone, from Celebrity Big Brother on her giant flat screen… to pick asparagus for the 1%.
Barry told me he voted Brexit… he assured me not because of immigration (he is married to an Eastern European) but because of the common agricultural and fisheries policy. Ok, I said, so who is going to write the new agricultural and fisheries policy for the UK? Barry didn’t know what sort of policy or quota we would have after Brexit because he thought we might not have one at all.
“Do you think a free-for-all out at sea will work fine for our fisherman and fish stocks?” I inquired.
Both Susanna and Barry think the country will be best served by an army of artisans, baking bread, catching fish and selling our surplus to who ever wants to buy it. They believe their small-scale business model can be translated into something the whole country will adopt, setting the country free from the rest of the world. They crave autonomy, they crave sovereignty. They resent the rules, they want to catch what ever they want when they want it and bugger the cod stocks. They know what is best for the people if only we can return to simpler, less complicated ways. Bringing in the harvest with a new peasant class and take what we want from the sea as we need it.
Profit now, conservation later. They believe in the Dunkirk spirit. They believe the English will overcome adversity. An adversity we created for ourselves… we now delight in overcoming. Meanwhile the EU are preparing a no deal Brexit while our government prepare for nothing. Hurtling toward an arbitrary date when we fall gently off the cliff.
Barry Green sat on the brown leather Chesterfield whilst we chewed over the past. I congratulated him his success. He told me I was the kind of person who could have done anything. I remind him, I’ve done more than most.
“Those houses you sold are worth £3 million pounds now.”
“But I wouldn’t have had any adventure, Barry.”
He remembered the play we performed in the Oyster Company, the summer of 1985. “The red knickers.” He chuckled. “Tatiana’s red knickers.”
“Do you remember the vase of blue Corn Flowers?”
“Yes,” he marveled.
I’m not going to explain. You had to be there.
The dogs curled up on the sofa. They ate cheese. They are still sleeping. It’s midday. They don’t have to worry about the pig and the dog we shared our time with these past few weeks in Barnes. We are going to walk in the rain. We are going to meet him, feel his soft skin under his coat. Just like the old days. Kissing in the street.
It’s been months since we last spoke. My harried exit from the USA only made our separation more dramatic. Those last fraught days before Abby drove me over the border. I had no time to explain, no time to say goodbye. Of course, I saw your brother in Seville but he provided scant consolation. I think about you often… and why not? We saw each other frequently. In lieu of our conversations I imagined your first experience of burning man. I wonder with a wry, affectionate grin your house filling with even more bits and pieces.
Toward the end of my time in the USA I think you knew just how miserable, trapped and disappointed I had become. Increasingly overwhelmed by my hatred for almost everyone except you. I wanted you to know just how relaxed I am here. It’s not Nirvana but I can travel, I can speak English to those who understand and most of all? The problems I encounter here I can deal with more than adequately. I would rather the English disappoint me than strangers from another shore.
The gays here do not confuse me with some character they’ve seen on TV. And even tho I might say I don’t want to fall in love… it’s maybe because I don’t dare love possible.
I’ve no idea if we will ever meet again. If we have anything more to say to each other but I wanted you to know how grateful I was. We had a blast. I wanted you to know that I love you very much.
My journey across Europe has been deliciously eventful. However, these past few weeks in Dorset were perhaps the most scintillating… and British.
My time on the West Dorset/East Devon border bound by upper class British convention. Rules of social engagement forged over hundreds of years by our ruling class… manners maketh the man. Rules, before my stint in the USA, I adhered to (mostly) and challenged unsuccessfully.
In the USA I learned a different social practice and without my daily dose of British self loathing I learned a very useful trick most Brits seem oblivious: Self Esteem. Consequently, revisiting the rules governing so much of our British social life has been a little disorienting because… I am Johnny Foreigner and the brits at play (and in the house of commons) behaving more like inchoate, chattering chimps than adroit conversationalist.
The British, upon meeting a stranger, like any un-evolved primate seek to assert themselves over the other and on rare occasions and only when deem appropriate… defer. A British person, full ape… will never give in to money, power or prestige. They’ll give up their seat on the british bus but only to those they assess are born to sit in it.
Socially, the Brits engage a very specific modus operandi.
Firstly, they establish the worth of the other. They quickly seek to discover reasons for any shame he/she should feel for merely being alive: At Monkton Wyld Court, Simon Fairlie’s obnoxious wife Gill Baron the imperious editor of The Land Magazine, rearing up on her hind legs, reminded me I had been expelled from Monkton Wyld School even though Gill conveniently forgets both she and her clochard husband were also expelled.
Bette Bright, whilst grooming another female in the pack, wanted me to remember I had once pretended to be a Lord. Another creepy petit bourgeois reptile told me I didn’t deserve my accent. All of which would have once caused me to flinch when I lived in the UK. After so long in the USA this British social venom fails to work as I carry more than enough antidote.
As it turns out, the critical gaze of a posh, British person is surprisingly easy to ignore. The shaming swipe effortlessly parried. The knowing laugh means nothing at all and hangs in the air like a fresh fart. Their sly, snaggle toothed grin makes the posh Brit look like they have learning difficulties. I was surprised by how often these rather crude techniques were used and how unsophisticated the most sophisticated Brit appears once you lift up his skirt and smell his unwashed cunt.
Bette Bright, married to singer and TV entertainer Suggs from the band Madness was the first Brit who wanted to remind me of my place. The very notion of one’s place is so uniquely British. As I was leaving a not so amusing Sunday lunch party in Whitstable with my friend Simon Martin, director of The Pallant Gallery, Bette sat bloated and over dressed, her fat cheeks once sweetly girlish now pock-marked and scribbled with red, broken veins. She wore green, over-sized bakelite jewelry, a large bottom impeding her journey.
I had once been very friendly with her sister Alana who died of pancreatic cancer. Attempting to make me uncomfortable she announced across the table, “Lord Anthony Rensdlesham, wasn’t it?” I was momentarily stunned as I had no cause to be reminded of that particular adventure, not for twenty years or more. Remember… I am not my story. Perhaps the best and most enduring gift AA afforded me. As Anthony Rendlesham had once been my name I was thrown into a different world. A centuries old world of sophistication, Fortuny and… Falconetti.
I asked her why she wanted to remind me of something I had lived 40 years ago. What was her aim? If her aim was to shame me… she had failed. I wondered out loud why a straight, white, affluent woman was trying to shame a gay person of color.
“How rude! ” She said.
“White fragility, white heterosexual fragility.” I replied.
She looked perplexed by my comment. “I have lots of gay friends.”
“And you learned nothing from them? Bette Bright, gay men know a great deal about reinvention… so odd you’ve not had that conversation. Didn’t you reinvent yourself Bette?”
I continued with vigor.
“Yes. Of course you did. You were born plain Anne Martin. Dull Anne. Well, dear, what’s good for the gander… is good for this goose. You may call me Lord Anthony Rendlesham.”
I swept out of the party. Leaving her spluttering into her summer pudding.
A theme emerged forcibly throughout the rest of my journey. I asked my friend the Weymouth born artist Graham Snow if he too experienced homophobia amongst the affluent, the ruling class, the petit bourgeois. He blurted out a list of ghastly things he puts up with. He is quite the most lonely person I have ever met, made more lonely by his so-called ‘friends’ who do not want the best for him.
Like Lucy Ferry making disparaging remarks about Lee McQueen’s rough east end boyfriends. Those woman kept that boy lonely. They used him, like Graham is used by unscrupulous heterosexuals. Graham, born in the 40’s, was shielded from the true horror of the most virulent hatred of the gays by his friendship with extraordinary men… like David Hockney and John Schlesinger. He has thick, thick skin after enduring years of glancing blows from the casual homophobe.
Homophobia is real and crippling and we dare not talk about it just in case it makes us vulnerable. A British aristocrat loves to mine another’s vulnerability. Reminding you he is whiter, more well-bred, more heterosexual and closer to the crown than YOU.
Perhaps I’m looking for trouble. Perhaps I’m too sensitive. Perhaps the blonde, female fitness instructor who has coffee at Dave’s Deli in Whitstable is not a homophobe but just doesn’t like me. There seems nothing worse to a recent Whitstable resident than these words: I was born here.
I am not an easy gay, I am not the kind of gay man who ignores a casual homophobic aside. If ‘Woodsy’ the window cleaner wonders why I am in Whitstable and doesn’t like it… maybe he’s scared I know a little too much about his past.
After a rather grueling tour via Swanage of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast with Graham Snow, he took me to the home of some very English sub aristocrats for dinner. Writer Jason Goodwin, son of Jocasta Innes and his very Nigella Lawson type wife. Their house was a typical English country affectation. A Christopher Gibbs pastiche thrown together with no money. Piles of rotting books, sagging sofas and a smokey fireplace. Their dogs were aggressive and needy, they want to sit on your lap then bite your hand. The food was overcooked, the conversation tepid… I sat opposite our host and a charming Italian woman Anna Orsini from the British Fashion Council and an Oxford don who loathed Jeremy Corbyn and still believed in slavery.
A forlorn, bald man sat beside the don, Matthew Rice whose wife Emma Bridgewater had recently and very abruptly left him. She had not mentioned him, he wailed, on Desert Island Disks. Apparently it is sexist to ask if she is menopausal. Now she has gone (she is not coming back) perhaps Mr Rice should bite the gay bullet. I mean… he can’t possibly be straight. Can he? Years of stenciling fowl onto earthenware might betray something of the fey in a man.
During the second course (roast lamb) shop keeper and Poundbury apologist Ben Pentreath arrived. A very British, gay handful. His simpering, tongue tied husband in tow… brutally eclipsed by Ben’s scintillating, room filling persona. Ben excused himself… they had been to another party. The dull husband threw Katie a huge bunch of vulgar dahlias. Ben had stories to tell and took charge of the table as best he could. He mocked his boss Prince Charles with an uninspired impersonation. Our host and hostess gasped and giggled like naughty Victorian children enthralled by a Zoetrope, tittering at everything the clown queen regaled.
Ben and his pretty husband live in a parsonage not far from Jason and Katie. The house has been ‘published’. They show me pictures in a magazine of Ben’s equally annoying interior. Stuck in a grim place where a potager is still essential and an escritoire ‘sublime’. More stuff. Acres of stuff. Rooms full of stuff. Stuff Poundbury bought. Stuff set against emerald walls, set against raspberry blancmange, more and more, lustre ware, vulgar dahlias… bunches and bunches of them.
After dinner I sank uncomfortably into the sofa, consumed by horse hair and damp feathers. Ben wanted to introduce me to the ‘most perfect’ man.
“I have the most perfect man for you!”
Announcing to the room I needed a boyfriend. I told him to google me. I couldn’t imagine he would want to introduce me to anyone after he had read everything there is to read about me…
“I don’t want a boyfriend,” I said.
Jason sat beside me. Looking intently. He asked why I didn’t want a boyfriend. I told him a little of my story. Unpacking the bags. I mentioned coming out at 13, he asked dismissively why it was so important to ‘come out’.
“Ask your best friend Ben,” I said. Ben balked.
Ben ditched the resting bitch face and looked quite real, momentarily. He told Jason he was 27 when he came out, when he told his brother he was gay his brother reacted very negatively. Jason was shocked. I realized these two men who claim to be best friends don’t know each other… at all.
Jason Goodwin, enjoying his casual homophobia, sneered at my sadness for all the men I knew who died of AIDS, questioning my PTSD. Jason sneered harder when I told him how the lgbt community must still fight for equality and wondered why I let cruel Section 28 affect me. Jason, like so many men of his class, thought us impudent for wanting more. Now he sits in the front row of his gay best friend’s wedding. As for Ben Pentreith, what fight did he put up? He let the rest of us do the heavy lifting. At his wedding he scarcely gave a thought to the men who sacrificed so much for his happy day.
As a deliciously uncomfortable postscript I made Ben describe how gay hook up apps like Grindr and Scruff work to the assembled crew of stodgy heterosexuals. It was gleefully entertaining. “Scruff?” They repeated disdainfully. They wrinkled their noses, fanning away the imagined smell of the word.
I met a man I had brief crush upon, He was blond and sensitive and sturdy. I didn’t make a move. I think I would have fallen in love. I bought him a bottle of gin.
Monkton Wyld. I was staying in the house of a retired Dr and his Christian wife. They were touring Australia and New Zealand. The Monkton Wyld rectory was filled with opaque plastic boxes containing a life of habitual collecting. Bits and pieces. Scraps of fabric, knitting needles, tapestry. Every room has a sofa, even the dining room. The Christian wife does not want to live anywhere other than the huge house in the country where she keeps her charming husband hostage. He wants to live in Australia near his adored kids. They’ve brought a little slice of Surrey to the vail of Monkton Wyld. Tennis courts, over planted herbaceous borders, a rockery and sweeping lawns. Their staircase and landing is painted a delightful jade color but she doesn’t like it. She wants to paint it, he doesn’t want to spend £3000. She is unhappy. They are unhappy.
They left the house. Went away for 6 weeks. When they returned she had read all about me on the internet. I could see from her pinched lips, her sallow… indirect look. Too much of a coward to look me in the face and tell me what she really thought. Her Christianity didn’t allow her to approve of gay men. Even though she has a bisexual daughter. So she dressed up her disapproval with a shocking number of complaints about my stay at their house. The water pump had stopped working and would cost them £1,800 to put right. Some of the plants in the greenhouse had died. There was dog shit in the herbaceous borders. I had bought the wrong cat food.
There is a field at the bottom of their garden the local disliked farmer wants to sell. I hope someone buys the field and builds a big beautiful house in that field souring their perfect view. Perhaps I will.
Whilst in Dorset I took a little road trip 50 miles North to see Rachel Campbell-Johnston who was once the lover and friend of Sebastian Horsley. She is the art critic for the London Times. The final weeks of my drug use was spent with her and Sebastian. I specifically remember her vomiting out of a black cab on Kensington High St after doing reams of cocaine in 1997. The taxi driver looked so disappointed.
“What’s a pretty girl like you behaving like this.” he said.
Well, Rachel made millions from property investments (selling an old shed in Kensal Rise to Bella Freud) and bought an austere house near South Molton on Exmoor. She lives there with her daughter Katya, her mother, lurchers and two funny goats. Her marriage to my friend Jayne’s husband, Willy spectacularly failed. Their friends forced to take sides.
“Don’t talk about it!” She demanded.
I had totally forgotten she married Willy Nickerson, now she wants me to forget all over again. We reminisced about Whitstable. The Peter Cushing House. She attempted to shame me by wondering if I owned the house in Whitstable, or did it belong to someone else?
“No, it was mine.” I smiled, her icy stare not altering the temperature one jot.
“I didn’t own the house in Adam and Eve Mews.” I added, “That was my boyfriend’s.”
“Your dogs are so fucking ugly.” She said.
As if on cue one of her lurchers grabbed a huge leg of pork from the kitchen table and ran off with it. Rachel sprinted after the dog and returned with the mangled joint. She put it in the oven. “That’s what country folk do.” She said.
She remembered visiting me in Whitstable with Sebastian, Tricia and Paul Simonon from The Clash. She pointed at the bottle of wine on the kitchen table.
“We own these vineyards.”
I looked at her. Carefully. Wondering if she would ever grow up and make sense of what it might mean to be a wife and mother. She had failed so spectacularly at both.
The following day we sat with Laura and Peter Carew who I found myself liking a great deal. I reminded them I had been nominated for an academy award and gone to Sundance and opened many film festivals all over the world, which is far more than most of the wannabees we hung out with who told you they would… but never did.
“Look at his dogs,” Rachel spewed,”They are so fucking ugly.”
Although the Carew’s house is jammed with stuff like the houses of all these country people it is welcoming and warm. Lunch, a couple of chops and some salad. It suits Laura very much to have staff and land. Sheep and cattle. She’s only a decade from living on Exmoor full-time. Giving in to the lure of headscarves, tweed skirts, lambing, and driving a Landrover full tilt over the sodden moor.
I didn’t drive home the night I left Exmoor. I hanker for the sea. For Lyme Regis.
I was happy to see it. Lyme will always remind me of my first great love: Gerard Falconetti, grand son of Renee Jeanne. He played Meryl Streep’s real-time lover in the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman. He was my lover and friend, he was also the first man I knew during those heady times to die of AIDS. When the doctors told him he would die of that cruel and terrible disease he threw himself from the roof of the Tour Montparnasse.
The harvest festival held earlier this month at St Andrew’s Church in Monkton Wyld, Dorset was quite an occasion. The magnificent, flint faced, neo-Gothic church is rarely used. It has an imposing steeple and a lavish transept, it has retained all of its original features. St Andrew’s church and the matching parsonage were designed in 1848 by Pugin’s well-respected pupil Richard Cromwell Carpenter.
There are few souls living in this tiny hamlet and fewer Christians, the church opens no more than a handful of times a year. The traveling vicar conducted 5 harvest festival services from Charmouth to Axminster that Sunday and by the time he had gotten to us at dusk he’d refined quite a routine. As we sat waiting for the service to begin a dormouse skipped over the altar.
After singing a few elderly harvest hymns and reciting some appropriately salubrious prayers we drank locally made apple juice and ate locally made apple cake served with thick unpasteurized jersey cream. There was an auction of local produce and people eagerly snapped up their neighbor’s home-grown vegetables… including a giant pumpkin. Katherine from the Monkton Wyld Community brought home-made sausages and Monkton Wyld Court cheese, it sold for a good price raising money for the repair of this delightful Victorian church.
I’ve been in Dorset these past six weeks, looking after a friend of a friend’s huge and imposing Edwardian rectory. Monkton Wyld sits on the edge of Marshwood Vale. This ancient countryside is still divided by hedgerow, the roads flanked by steep mossy banks decorated with ivy and bracken. As the autumn crept over us, the leaves fell from the beech trees revealing the sea at Lyme Bay and Charmouth beyond. Catching the sun like great mirrors, two miles away.
This red brick house was built in 1901 to replace the draughty, original parsonage built conveniently next to St Andrew’s. The parsonage below us is a neo-Gothic masterpiece, similarly faced with perfectly knapped chert. The house sits proudly in a garden copied by Cromwell Carpenter from a surviving medieval English manor.
The rooms at Monkton Wyld Court are large and well proportioned, there is a delightful and unexpected internal courtyard where bats fly at dusk, a kitchen garden that provides enough vegetables all year for the community of people who live in the house and their paying guests. A short way away from the main house, down a well trodden path there is a charming oak framed milking parlor that serves four cows, and every week I’ve stayed here I’ve bought Monkton Wyld cheese or yogurt or milk that tastes unlike any milk I’ve ever tasted.
For the past 40 years I have returned to this valley. Once, hitch hiking from Whitstable to Charmouth to revisit Monkton. As a child I had a magical relationship with this place and I continue to return. When I arrive (however I get here) I walk into the valley, past the stream, up the hill, down the drive. I am immediately transported to a better place. The laurel, the rhododendrons, the great ornamental pines. The rope swing hanging from the ancient Douglas Fir and has done for 80 years, giving so many children so much pleasure.
This is where I went to school, albeit briefly, sadly getting expelled for appalling behaviour. Yet, in 1971 I experienced moments of pure joy in this perfect place. Here I learned everything. I learned how to ride, play the piano, bake bread… I learned how to live in a house with two staircases and how to use an Aga. I read the Norse tales and was read the Greek myths by handsome Chris under the same Douglas fir on lazy hot July afternoons. There I met the Minotaur, felt intoxicated by the story of the king who held him in the labyrinth. Names I will never forget: Daedalus, Theseus, Knossos.
It was here I experimented with my fledgling sexuality with a boy called Jasper. It was here I lay beside Amaryllis and held her breasts. It was here we sped these lanes in an old land rover to Lyme Bay. It was here the older kids took acid and we drank scrumpy. It was in this place I read the banned magazine Oz and when I took that magazine home to Whitstable my parents confiscated it, stunned… as if it were Satan’s pamphlet.
The school kids were wild and articulate and the staff equally so. Every day we had a noisy school meeting where problems were solved and punishments dished out. We ate home-baked bread and whatever the kitchen garden provided. We smoked, our hair grew out, we bathed rarely…. wandering around the school like homeless people. The older kids listened to Alice Cooper and I bought my first single in Axminster, Gaye by Clifford T Ward.
My best friend was Tom Melly. George’s son. Tom and I burned great towers of cardboard pretending they were tower blocks and commentated upon them like BBC journalists as they fell into a burning heap. We explored the stream at the end of the valley and leapt over ravines and fought fern monsters, their tendrils wrapped around out legs like snakes. We invented our own labyrinth and escaped from it. My friendship with Tom wildly impressed my parents who asked endless questions whenever I hung out with Tom and his dad. Yet, for all of this I could not deal with a life unfettered. I had come from a strict house and the damage had already been done. After a shoplifting binge in Lyme Regis I was expelled… and that was that. But my love for Monkton never dimmed. Every time I return to Monkton Wyld I wonder when I leave if I this will be my last visit. I savor every minute, every star above us, every sunrise.
My stay here included meeting community members, some of the Monkton Wyld Community trustees and my immediate neighbors. One in particular grabbed my attention, a single dad who teaches survival skills all over the world. His curly blond hair and fair complexion, his sensitive disposition coupled with his physical strength. What a man!
I met a very posh farmer from Dorchester who gave me a haunch of venison and two excellent cuts of pork. Melanie DB cooked the venison and I cooked the pork. The dogs set upon the bones ravenously. I visited my friend Graham in Weymouth and had a lovely time. We explored country churches and had tea with the Earl and Countess of Sandwich at Mary Lou Sturridge’s Seaside Boarding House. I ate delicious lunches on my own at Hugh’s River Cottage restaurant in Axminster and one very ugly lunch at Mark Hix’s ghastly restaurant in Lyme Regis: three goujons of cod and a pile of rancid chips for £20.
Of course I looked at property and imagined building a place in the middle of nowhere. I traveled to Exmore and stayed with Rachel Campbell Johnston and her dear daughter. We had long walks along the cliffs near Illfracomb and dropped in on Laura Carew. Laura and I hiked the perimeter of her estate which took hours. The little dog soldiered on valiantly. Then, when all was said and done, I drive back to Monkton and sleep soundly in my huge, comfortable bed.
Monkton Wyld School closed in 1981 and now the old parsonage houses a Centre for Sustainability Education, The Court is run and maintained by a residential community as well as a team of short-term volunteers.
Here is a short documentary about Monkton Wyld School made at the time I was there:
These past few days he caught my attention. Harvey Weinstein. Unmasked.
Petulant, controlling, surly. Harvey’s behaviour well-known in LA, often reported. His verbal abuse of others tolerated, excused, even celebrated. Harvey believed the only way to achieve his ambition was absolute control. The only way to win Hollywood.
Then, Harvey’s life unraveled. The women spoke out. The Mossad agents protecting Harvey stood down. Stories leaked, reputable media outlets ignore the story until the sound of those women screaming could no longer be ignored. Rape, molestation, finger fucking.
I am powerless over my addiction… my life has become unmanageable. It’s a pretty astute description of any addict. I am powerless over that which may kill me: drugs/drink/gambling/sex/food. I do not consider the consequences of my actions therefore: my life falls apart.
Any addict who confronts their addiction must first accept the notion of powerlessness. This seems obvious to most addicts hitting our desperate rock bottom… but I betcha a billion dollars Harvey Weinstein, whose name is synonymous with the word control, will struggle to understand this baffling first step. He may never understand but unless he humbly embraces his part in this catastrophe of his own making there will be no second chance, no triumphant return to Hollywood for Harvey Weinstein.
I met Harvey a few times these past 20 years, notably at the NYC Philomena screening with Fern Mallis. He was gruff and rude. I didn’t expect anything else. Weinstein had long ago become a grotesque caricature of himself. There are so many apocryphal stories about Harvey Weinstein from too many miserable producers and directors… their projects in tatters after Harvey intervenes; re-cuts, re-imagines, ultimately buying and bludgeoning the outcome of their project into his project. An editor told to lose all the wide shots from a director’s cut because, according to Harvey, wide shots are meaningless if one is watching the movie on a tiny screen in an airplane.
Harvey could make or break a career in Hollywood. There was no other narrative on offer. Film folk strode bravely into the Weinstein inferno never knowing if they and their film would return ruined or gilded with Oscar gold.
Men like Harvey are very familiar in Hollywood. The executives, CEOs and super lawyers I met owning up to their addiction in the rooms of AA and SAA in LA all had similar stories, sobbing when they got caught, pleading with their wives not to lose access to their children. Every day confessing misogyny to their peers at stag meetings all over the West Side.
Let’s get one thing straight. Harvey did not act alone. He had a bunch of conspirators: lawyers, assistants and relatives. The most powerful players in Hollywood looked after him, turned a blind eye to his appalling behavior… ’cause he made them billions of dollars. Studio and Agency bosses who, although they did not do the abusing themselves, aided and abetted his abuse. He could rely on a cabal of powerful white men to get him out of trouble by paying his victims and making them sign crippling nda.
Unless you’ve sat with men like Harvey Weinstein listening to their most troubling secrets it is impossible to explain how they get away with what Harvey got away with. These problems go to the very heart of the Hollywood star making… and taking away machine.
Let’s remind ourselves, this outrage wasn’t generated by women. Women’s stories have been used as evidence for the prosecution but this scandal was manufactured by men to strategically bring Harvey Weinstein down. D’you think for one moment if he hadn’t pissed somebody off really badly this story would be news?
When Harvey became too much of a liability, powerful men removed his protected status. Why did they choose to bring him down now after years of abuse? Why did it suit them to make an example of him? Why?
There are many men like Harvey in positions of power in the entertainment industry… in every industry, behaving just like Harvey. There’s little appetite for real change. We condemn people for not speaking up sooner, for not breaking the silence. Yet, some of the brave women who told the truth about Harvey have been savagely criticised for doing so. Why did they accept a cash settlement from The Weinstein Company in lieu of the truth? We all know why. Male abusers are preciously, lavishly safe guarded.
Unlimited access to sex with whomever you desire is the greatest prize afforded to those who make millions and achieve high status. Men, who without question or sacrifice can ‘grab them by the pussy’ without consequence. Can cum over an intern’s blue dress as she kneels demurely in the Oval Office. Can grab a young boys ass and know he wouldn’t dare complain.
Nobody wants to hear the truth about powerful men. Everyone wants to shoot the messenger. Remember when I wrote about Bryan Singer?
Another ‘open secret’: fashion photographer Bruce Weber continues to behave like Harvey Weinstein toward young male models. Taking pictures of them naked for his ‘private collection’ molesting and assaulting and promising lucrative campaigns if they give in to his gentle caress, taking the campaign away if they refuse.
This is as big a secret as Harvey’s expose. How does it sound? Who wants to shoot the messenger? Every fashion editor in the world turns a blind eye, a deaf ear. When Terry Richardson was exposed they said nothing. Terry still works… making money the rest of us can only dream of.
I had these experiences. Accepting the invitation construed as a tacit agreement to have sex. And yes. It’s all about privilege, entitlement… my first ‘date’ with a very famous hair dresser ended with what I now understand was rape. I was 18. He had the power to change my life. My story sounds pathetic when I tell it to myself in isolation, I learned not to tell it. Together these stories change perceptions, and make us stronger. This outrage breaking over the world about Weinstein sends a clear message to those men with power and entitlement to reconsider what is acceptable behavior. I am not a victim. Telling our stories will not make us victims. I am not my story.
Bradford on Avon. September. I’m looking over her gently terraced garden, sitting at the desk of an old friend in her honey coloured Georgian house. The sun peeking out from an angry, black cloud. Gold finches at the bird table, brambles growing into the Kent Cobb Nut tree, blackberries ripe and ready to harvest. Beyond this garden there are 18th century terraces built of crumbling bath stone. There is a freshly planted parterre, the tiny box hedges won’t be ready for another two years. Box grows so slowly. All over the English countryside gardeners tend their neatly trimmed topiary, privet sculpted into elegant forms. The muscles in my back and neck are still tender from the last few months of anxious reckoning.
From my home in the USA… things are grim. That’s that. AMERICA. Every day the news gets worse. Trump’s white supremacist vision for the USA. Unpicking every half-hearted Obama achievement. Making the point of his white presidency to undo a black man’s legacy. Indisputable evidence… I escaped at the right time. I can’t understand people who stick around. What more do they need to see or hear before they leave that god forsaken Trump hole?
The most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.”
Thankfully I’m home. Home in England. I left my friends in Chamonix after we enjoyed a few days vacation in Northern Italy and yet another adventure on the Tuscan coast. I drove to Paris, left Dude with my friend Mary and the following day Little Dog and I caught the P&O ferry to Dover where I met my sister Roya. A few miles later I was sitting on the sunny lawn of my friend’s lavish Queen Anne mansion reconfigured in 1911 by Edward Lutyens.
It was the first time I’d met my sister, we’d spent a few years skyping since she introduced herself online. Now, here she was in all her lesbian glory with her delightful girlfriend drinking champagne on the velvet lawns of the English countryside. I’m sure she felt anxious. I’m sure she felt confused. We have ten brothers and sisters.
I’ve avoided England. Voting from afar, now I return. I must admit… I’m in love with you, the English, in love with you all. I understand you, you are gentle, even the hardest amongst you. You’ll never be as inflexible and humorless as the Americans. On the ferry home I listened to two middle-aged couples describing their lives on the roads of Europe. Motor homes. I envied them. On the road. Free. Unencumbered.
For the first time, however, the British have been divided. Not along lines of class or political affiliation but whether one is a brexiteer or not. Tentatively enquiring when one meets a friend if they voted for or against brexit. They might be that kind of person. Yet, as I waited at the traffic lights in Camden Town I saw a river of diversity. So unique, colorful… so English. Evidence just there on that grimy North London street: thousands of years of cultural amalgamation.
Our leaders seem so terribly out of step with the people they lead.
The English are very sweet. A ready smile, a polite greeting, they have a charming disposition. Drivers thank you for courteous driving, we stick to the correct lanes on the motorway. The British are engaging and inquisitive. After so many years walking streets in the USA, I gave up saying good morning or smiling at strangers. Here is a nation of men and women who without hesitation are eager to trust, eager to forgive and desperately want to smile whenever they chance upon a stranger.
Perhaps it’s me? Perhaps I am so happy to be back they recognise my unbridled happiness? I don’t think so. It’s them, the British, naturally optimistic, even though they are unaware of their optimism. They can’t see it. They would disagree if I told them to their face.
I was excited to see my home town, but I was too tired to drive to Whitstable the night I arrived. I planned to go after my sister and her girlfriend left but instead I crept into a huge bed with the Little Dog and slept soundly. In the morning I found the wonderful Barham Community Store, read the newspaper then headed up the M2 to the north Kent coast.
I parked the car on Harbour Street and had coffee at Dave’s Deli, he was adorable. His sister works there. We talked about Richard Green. He has been very sick. Everyone I met seemed delighted to see me and hugged me or shook my hand vigorously. People I’d known all my life. Half a century or more.
Yet, for all the time passed since I first cycled up Harbour Street at 7 years old on my red tricycle… not much has changed. There’s more money but there’s more money swamping the south-east, all the way to Margate. I explored the town and lingered outside all three of my houses. They were just as I left them. The house on Island Wall has a very smart garden and the house next door has nice new Victorian sash windows. Number 3 Seaway Cottages on Wavecrest (owned by Peter Cushing before me) is a little forlorn. The owner hasn’t been there all summer and the garden has overgrown terribly. Number 2 Seaway Cottages has been renovated several times since I left, they have built a 20 foot kitchen onto the back of the house. Thankfully they kept the expensive door handles and light switches.
I didn’t miss the houses on Whitstable beach, not one little bit. They were mine, I sold them for a huge profit and I moved on. People ask if I miss the money they would be worth now and I remind them they are only worth money when you sell them. I miss them not at all, they gave me the oppertunity to move on in style. I have never wished to be there again, no nostalgia… no regret. Not like Malibu… I hanker after Malibu.
Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Some uppity British people are very eager to remind you of your place in society, reminding me of my own ancient history… but I’m an American now so those archaic rules don’t apply to me.
More of that when I return to my desk tomorrow.
I’ll never recover from my love of LA. However badly it treated me. I will never forget our ill-fated house in Malibu. The restaurant at the end of the pier. The Jacaranda, the delicate pepper trees, those tall palms glistening like cellophane when the rains finally came. Have you seen Pharrell’s video for his song Happy? That’s how I’ll remember LA. The light, the streets, down town Los Angeles, the fat and the thin. Looking heavenward, remembering why we moved there armed only with dreams. Pleading for security, good traffic, and a god who loves us even if the dream slips further from our grasp…
When I left LA I earned more money than I ever earned. What foolishness made me give it up? Fear. The same fear I had in NY and no longer feel here in Europe. Fear of the speeding bullet, the rogue cop, fear of mud slides, wild fires… and me.
Last week I purged almost all the white, American gay men from my Facebook friends list. When I announced I was doing so… Facebook banned me for a week. Thank you Big Brother, no Facebook means no compulsive checking. I didn’t recognize any of the gay white American men who claimed to know me, or I had friended because I am weak and colluded with the notion the gays gather as many other gays around them as we possibly can so we may perpetuate the myth of gay solidarity.
According to Facebook, this declaration to purge unknown faces from my FB page was hate speak.
I was an unwilling participant in an anonymous gay web. I don’t know the 50 people we have in common. I don’t want to know the 28 mutual friends. The 42 people who don’t know each other more than passing their clone on Robertson, Old Compton St, Commercial Street or Ocean Walk. Lives as the gays chose to document on FB, so utterly boring, so stultifyingly limited. Haunting the same locations, using exactly the same language we used 50 years ago… and on… the perpetual hunt, the same miserable polemic. One hundred thousand likes for a shirtless picture. A million Instagram followers for the most perfectly honed of them.
Recently a young gay man, beset by righteous indignation, complained to his 5 thousand followers his profile pic had been stolen and used on a well-known dating app. I wondered out loud (amongst the commiseration) why they had bothered stealing the image? The picture they appropriated was so utterly boring, so drearily identical to any number of equally dull gay men. There was nothing distinguished or vaguely fascinating about the stolen photograph. My comment caused OUTRAGE.
Their outrage is misplaced. The gays are so often angry but unwilling to take action. Emboldened by changing laws: each new generation of gays relive their very own glasnost, embracing ersatz activism. Their muscle drag and occasional militancy leads nowhere. Built like warriors, Spartans… fucking not fighting. Marching in the gay parade, holding their radical (campy) signs high above their heads then… a few hours later it’s back to the soupy hot tub for more identically built/identically aged/undressed… perpetual strangers. Cock first, talk later.
I seemed, during my time in the USA, to know two types of (repugnant) white gay men:
1. Semi aquatic gays who hang out in hot tubs and swimming pools. Boasting on-line about their open relationships, their poly amorous lives, one assumes they are ok smelling the stench of other men’s cum over their husband’s perfectly sculpted bodies.
2. Then there are gays like John Derian, the fay New York based purveyor of knickknacks. Publishing pictures of their grand houses, their grand friends, their holidays in equally magnificent surroundings. They need me to know what they eat, how they dress their surrogate children, how they arrange flowers and prepare the canape. These gays have open relationships built on mergers and acquisitions. Choosing men as they choose tuba roses at the farmers market. As far from love and monogamy as one can get.
The purge is complete. The result of this time-consuming exercise? My feed as dictated by Big Brother’s algorithms is now more representative of who I am. People I know in the world posting pictures of things I want to look at, asking questions I can answer, engaging meaningfully with me.
Good God! I knew so many white, American gays, fledgling proto fascists. Echoing fake news, convincing one after another what they want to us all to believe… amplifying easily digestible myths then greedily consuming them like protein bars. Post by post confirming their collective denial of what the gay community has become and where the community is headed.
During the election the noise of the myth makers in the pink echo chamber became deafening. Everyone, of course, claimed to know Robby Mook, Clinton’s gay campaign manager. Armed with their exclusive Robby Mook whispers they convinced themselves and others Hillary Clinton was unassailable. They believed everyone was thinking just like them. The violence I suffered at their hands when I told them bluntly they were wrong… was worse than any abuse I had ever suffered from any heterosexual homophobe. As it turned out, my take on the gay community was right… they were indeed wrong. Trump won.
I heard, via my own sources, Clinton beat Mook on the chest, crying and wailing…
Now the gays are right behind the liberal ‘reds in the bed’ narrative. Unquestioningly wedded to the dream of impeachment. Telling each other it’s only a matter of time before Trump is gone for good. They shyly, foolishly ask their friends on Facebook if another election will take place? After all, they bleat, we won the popular vote… even if the Russians lost Clinton the election. Their muddled polemic evolved amongst their good-looking selves on social media. Like in needle point class they stitch the narrative of their dreams as if it were true. Trump will be impeached they chant, Trump… is not my President!
My most violent confrontations on social media seems to erupt when I challenge American gay white men to explain how, as they claim, if they were hypothetically living in Nazi Germany would they take on Nazis? Contrary to their stringency most of the white gays I know would have willingly signed up to become Nazis… like most Germans did, to save their scrawny asses and of course wear the fabulous black and gold Gestapo uniforms.
My friend Bettina’s father, he lived in Germany during the war, told me he only heard about the concentration camps from annoying conspiracy theorists. The sort of people one didn’t want to believe. He was genuinely shocked, at the end of the war, to see the truth.
Few people are brave enough to challenge the regime under which they live. Most American white gays are incredibly comfortable. What would motivate any them to up sticks… unless forced to? Until the knock on the door. The stench of unwashed policemen in the kitchen demanding ‘papers’. Looking for evidence of homosexuality. The gays would hang on ’til the last-minute… until the authorities came looking for them.
The dumbest gays think in 1930 they would still enjoy the connectivity they enjoy today… their mobile phones and the internet. They think they would have access to a large group of similarly minded people, their mutual friends on Facebook. They do not understand the isolation of the activist. Activists in 1930 constantly wondered if they were the only human alive who thought the system… the regime was wrong. They were scared to articulate thoughts and ideas with others for fear of being arrested. Even gay or lesbian friends could not be trusted… lgbt friends regularly turned acquaintances over to the party for punishment.
Activists are often annoying, their message difficult to hear.
The pink triangle worn by gay men in the German concentration camps was the worst of all the badges… because it so often lead to violent and unexpected death from both guards and other inmates, the Jews in the camps would kill a gay wearing a pink triangle as easily as the Nazi. The Pink Triangle became something to aim at by bored soldiers looking for something to kill. Alan Davies the well-known and well-loved British comedian, lived in Whitstable whilst at Kent and Canterbury University. We knew each other but we were not particularly friendly. He wore a pink triangle badge into The Neptune pub in solidarity with the gays… yet continually indulged in casual and not so casual homophobia. He enjoyed his white heterosexual entitlement and when I challenged him to take off the badge he angrily determined it was his right to wear the triangle regardless of a gay man telling him he had not earned the privilege.
In the Neptune Pub I was told with sneering contempt marriage equality would never happen in my life time. Sadly, I believed them. However hard I fight, I thought, I’ll never live in a fair and equitable world.
When I made a fuss others insisted it didn’t matter. Making a fuss = activism.
Physically and verbally attacked for articulating (complaining) the iniquity and injustice gays endured every day. Made my friends feel uncomfortable.
Complaining = Activism
I wore pale blue overalls in LA County to determine I am gay. For all the world to see. There can be no mistaking what you are. They like to know exactly what they are dealing with… the authorities. Making me wear a pale blue uniform taught me a huge lesson. It flagged to the others: I am what you see me to be. I no longer enjoy invisibility. You will never let me forget my vulnerability. I am at your mercy. I learned what it was to be black in the USA wearing those overalls. My human rights lawyers assigned by the ACLU… Barry Litt and Lindsay Battles, perhaps the most ghastly people I ever met, never really understood how egregious the uniform was. They didn’t understand much other than their own egos. I hated them. I hated being around them.
I left the USA because I could no longer excuse how many innocent black men were murdered by the police paid by my tax dollars… and I asked myself: what would it take for me to think enough is enough and the first plane away? How could I justify living in a country that exploits vulnerability in all? All Americans I know, republican, democrat or progressive, buy into this version of capitalism: VULNERABILITY equals OPPORTUNITY. It is their DNA, add this to their inability to own up to uncomfortable historical facts about race and the people they displaced to live in the USA… and you have Donald Trump’s America, no different from how it always was but now the mask has gone.
Trump is going to be here for a long time. Get used to it. Nobody cares about the Russians, nobody cares if Trump is a fucking idiot. Everybody is now fully committed to the drama, the intensity of his high-octane reality TV style presidency. And get this, after his second term you’ll be voting for Ivanka who I assure you will be the first female american president.
Of course, not all gay white men believe we live in an unfair society. Since the wobbly supreme court equal marriage determination (so easily overturned) some white gay men think they are equal… the fight has been won. Even with Trump as president they convince themselves they are no longer vulnerable to exploitation. They are wrong. I am the annoying activist you don’t want to hear… to remind white American gays the battle is never won, the freedom you think you have is being eroded at this very moment in some back room at the Whitehouse in a deal between rabid Christians and some crazy Trumpista. We must always stay vigilant. Our battles fought honestly, not forged in the Supreme Court but in Congress and the Senate for all the world to see.
We spoke after getting our numbers for showers. I was number 87 and you was 86. Later that night I got out of the truck and smoked and you asked me something and then you got out and we talked for a bit. You are one nice guy and very sexy. I wish I would have been brave and asked you. If you read this what did you ask before getting out of your town? Would like to talk more and see if anything could happen.
Oscar Wilde reminds us ‘Youth is wasted on the young’. But… that was before the selfie, and the advent of the age of terminal narcissism. Thousands of American children arrest their own development by killing themselves with guns and drugs. They remain forever young on social media, perfectly pimped and pouting, biceps glistening, shirts lifted to reveal hairless abs… before the lethal opioid injection. I didn’t bother killing myself when I was young because I genuinely thought somebody else would do it for me. A bullet speeding through my brains.
Did you share a moment with yourself when you were young? A moment when you caught a glimpse, accidentally saw yourself in the mirror, a beautiful stranger looking back at you? Momentarily recognising your own youth and beauty? Has that happened to you?
I am 22, I’d been swimming in the Balham community swimming pool. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My black, wet hair stuck to my forehead, beads of water on my face, a slight blush on my cheeks. I knew I’d never be as young or as beautiful ever again. I never forgot his face, that… hopeful young man. I think I fell in love. I hanker for him… a chance encounter… a missed connection with the man I would always love above all others.
Recently I felt angry about the past. Something I couldn’t change… but it changed me. I felt angry our generation of gay men had not been allowed to flourish in the same way this generation has. I felt angry because I didn’t take relationships between men seriously, after all… what could a relationship with another man possibly lead to? Then AIDS came. Those haunted faces. Was I just meant to ignore the possibility of a gruesome death? The loathing I have for most entitled, white gay man had its genesis there… if I cannot love you I must hate you. Born out of shit covered sheets and young men begging not to die.
You were in the men’s dressing room at Balham Community Swimming Pool. Tuesday, round 2pm. July, 1982. Do you remember? You caught a glimpse of me in the mirror and smiled. You have a beautiful smile. We exchanged the briefest moment. I knew instantly you are the man for me. When I turned around… you vanished. I am from out-of-town. I have never returned to the pool but I often look in the mirror, wondering if you will be there. I wish I had been brave and asked you. Will you marry me?
All through my early 20’s I was convinced I had AIDS, I refused to believe the doctors when they told me I was not infected. I thought there was a conspiracy, doctors and nurses unwilling to tell me the truth. I had HIV test after test even though I was not having sex with anyone. I was so convinced I was dying of AIDS I ended up in hospital for my crazy obsession with death. One day a therapist asked me about my mother and the trauma of being handed over for adoption. “It’s life or death.” She said. Taken from your mother. Will you live or will you die? Fighting for life. Nothing else matters… but living. I wanted to live so badly. Yet the fear of death gripped me, driving me, defining the man I would become.
I must be safe, I must have a roof over my head, I must eat. Nothing else matters.
There’s an english baby called Charlie Gard, he’s on a life support machine. There are many people who don’t accept his doctor’s grim prognosis, they want him to have experimental treatment in the USA. The experts say it’s no use. The Charlie Gard Army they call themselves, emboldened by shoddy science and encouraged by Donald Trump they are fighting for his life in the courts. These people are much like Americans who hang around abortion clinics intimidating women having abortions. They are frail like a baby, they are powerlessness like an unborn child, they are mortally injured by contemporary life, they are fighting the establishment the only way they know how. They are oblivious, in denial that Charlie Gard is already dead… much like themselves.