The Empty Beehive

1.

The IHRA definition of anti-semitism has been weaponised. Adopted by those who scream any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. However, there is no IHRA definition for homophobia. Until there is an official definition… those of us who experience homophobia, casual or direct cannot call out the perpetrators with any assurance.

The reason there is no official definition of homophobia? Because if we ring fenced homophobia like some have ring fenced anti semitism most people would have to address their homophobia… making for a very uncomfortable time. If the definition of homophobia was as stringent as anti-semitism most everybody I know would qualify as a homophobe.

The reality is: There is no escaping from the stain of anti semitism in the Labour Party because the definition is inescapable.

I remain a non-compliant homosexual. Most gay men keep themselves to themselves. They have learned not to complain, they have coupled up in loveless mergers and they tell me I’m making an unnecessary fuss when I warn about the rise of the right and how our lives will be impacted. Tommy Robinson is not our friend. Religious people are not our friends. After the marriage equality win in the USA I cautioned lgbt people not to take their new freedoms for granted. They sneered at my pessimism. 6 years later I am proved sadly correct. Across the USA our rights are being eroded, even marriage equality has been challenged in some states.

I am the ‘other’. The one who will not back down, the one who may lose everything rather than bow to the wishes of the many. The man who would not take it any more. For years I ignored the homophobia I experienced until it became too violent or extreme. Some would say, ‘this isn’t about homophobia, this is about you’. Yet, the two are inextricable. I have been shaped by homophobia and those who attempt to shame me for being gay.

As a small boy I saw those around me hate gay men and I thought to myself: If they hate me for something I cannot change… I’ll give them every reason to hate me. So, I started a war against homophobes at first to protect myself, but as the years past and attitudes changed, I played those bastards for sport. Now, I habitually call out homophobia because it is my duty.

If I had been a gay man who towed the heterosexual line I may not have driven myself insane with casual homophobia. The nasty aside, the glaring look, the guys who violently demanded if I was looking at them, ‘what are you looking at?’ I wouldn’t have bothered reminding straight people at gay clubs how lucky they were to experience the sexual freedom they enjoyed in our lgbt spaces, a freedom I could never enjoy in straight clubs/bars etc. without risking my life

Quentin Crisp perfectly articulated how most gay men learn not to engage with strangers because they are frighted by the prospect of physical violence. Quentin told me in The Naked Civil Servant I should not directly look at anyone. I should not speak unless I am spoken to. Because he knew he risked certain death if he did. However, I refused to obey the rules. I looked at anyone. I told men they were beautiful when they deserved it. I refused to be bowed. I behaved like any other working class men behaved with woman… with men.

Straight people don’t get to tell me what is homophobic. Straight people need to check their privilege and think twice before they speak to me about homophobia. So, it is with some curiosity I now unfold before you a continuing drama at the land in Walford, Herefordshire where we are attempting to get planning permission to park the car. When I first went to Walford I knocked on the doors of the neighbours attempting to introduce myself, some were very friendly, others less so. It didn’t take long for them to google me and decide I wasn’t neighbour material. My gay story of contentious opposition did not suit them.

The man left… I lay in the flickering light of the mute television. I thought about rats, their tails entwined in some gruesome death. A rat king.

A rat king is a mischief of rats whose tails are bound together by one of several possibilities. Entangling material like hair or sticky substances. The number of rats joined together varies from a few to very many. They remain intertwined until death parts them.

The residents of Cherry Tree Lane, Walford came marching as one into the Parish Council meeting at Walford Church last Wednesday. Crippled by resentment these sour hill-dwelling homeowners, their tails entwined like rats, gummed together, furious, emotional. Whipped into a frenzy of hate by our neighbour at Foxwood House, Fran Blackwell. Dragging her gormless husband Andrew behind her. The same husband we threatened a ‘cease and desist’ for haranguing and insulting anyone we employ to work on our land.

Cherry Tree Lane

Andrew, who rather than enjoying the last of his foggy years, has to act as gate keeper at the end of the lane, defending what little they have. His onerous duty, his frail figure poorly wrapped in the bitter cold. Angular, tall and oblivious as only dementia can render a full grown man.

When we applied for planning… threats followed. I’m used to threats. I’m used to facing the angry mob. The police at early gay pride marches. The demonstration outside the theatre at the gay play. They hate you for speaking up for yourself. They expect you to bow to their heterosexual will. Some of the neighbours on Cherry Tree Lane are no different. So, when they threatened me with a gun… I’m not bowed. When they tie laminated notices on our fence… I laugh. When they put empty bee hives on the land I simply remove them. It’s like being on a tweedy episode of the Jeremy Kyle show.

Now the slut shaming neighbours sit behind me at the council meeting. John Lewis from the ugly 80’s house (ironically called Halcyon Days) his fat red face and waxed jacket fixing me with his best impression of an intimidating stare. He looks like a demented alcoholic. You know the ones… with huge noses. John owns John Lewis Fine Foods, his wife called her neighbours telling them she had no objection to our development, just an objection to me. I am going to report John Lewis to Companies House as unfit to run a company. Andrew Williams from Starry Way, Cherry Tree Lane (before I arrived in Walford) had an appalling reputation on the Hill. Well known as a nasty piece of work… he glances at me but cannot bring himself to look me in the eye. I’m told Andrew works as a state sponsored thug for some governmental GCHQ type organisation. Obviously a candidate for an asbergers diagnosis,  Andrew arrives at the meeting looking like a cartoon undertaker. He sits in his over tight black suit and tie, his neck bulging over a soiled white collar. He is accompanied by his smug wife.

Sitting beside pouting Andrew frail, ex-lawyer Phil Watters shakes with rage. His delicate wrists folded into his flaccid lap like an elderly dowager Duchess. Emaciated Phil and his plump, much older wife Pam live in The Rocks which they run as a dank bed and breakfast. You can see the interior of their dreary house on line. It looks like it might be a themed experience? For those who want to stay at a palliative care home. Maybe they keep a priest in their converted pig shed for guests who come to die slowly from either the Watter’s killer decor or their stultifying conversation? Receiving the last rights rather than a full english. Oh… the pig shed. Did the Watter’s get planning approval for their pig shed conversion into holiday accommodation? Or didn’t they?

Then there’s amazonian Janet Shaw-Crabtree (an affected double barrelled name), the red headed wife of Steve Crabtree, who works at the BBC and live in Greystone House, the local ‘big house’. My friend’s aunt once lived in Greystone House when it was called The Eyrie. Janet, really should know better, sitting at the back of the Parish Council meeting recording everything on her pink, rubber comedy phone.

Janet and Steve invited me into their home when I first visited Walford two years ago. Janet, after three large glasses of gin, asked, “Why can’t you live somewhere else?” We left the party prematurely on account of Janet’s halitosis. The kind of halitosis one can smell a yard from her rancid mouth. Maybe she has rotten gums from excessive gin drinking and hair dye?

At the Parish Council meeting angry Fran and Andrew are lost in the melee at the back of the narthex. Smelly Janet and cunty Fran are perfectly happy to have their phone and electricity cables on our land but could not bring themselves to have it re-routed onto theirs. Jan, Fran and Pam: tonight they look like women who are sure they’ve won the war. Knitting gleefully by the guillotine.

Pam Watters is a respected Airbnb super host, tonight with her rat gang she looks less than a gracious doyenne as described in her many Trip Adviser 4 star reviews, instead she sits pinched and puckered by her anorexic husband. My neighbour David Astwood from dreary Killara House is a slim, mouse man who may or may not be gay… sandwiched between Phil and Andrew, his glasses slipping off his tiny snout. I can hear him behind me grooming his whiskers. Like a Beatrix Potter rodent I’ve seen him pottering up the lane on his electric bicycle. Whenever David sees my representatives on the hill he demands to know who they are, tells them lies about me, advises them they shouldn’t work for me and then demands they google me. Well… Google this, David Astwood mouse man.

I look back at their pale, white faces patinated by veins of fury as it dawns upon them their trip to the beautiful medieval Walford church isn’t going to plan. Rather than putting a little effort into researching how the Parish Council meeting actually works or listening to Frank, the leader of the Parish Council, who explains carefully and in detail how the public get to speak at the beginning of the meeting about anything on the agenda. When the time came for public representation the hurd sat mute and incapable.

When it is my turn to speak (I am invited to present the reasons for our planning application) the rats at the back squirm and squawk realising they’d lost their opportunity to have their say. John Lewis… the entitled, fat faced man from Halcyon Days angrily told the leader of the meeting the rules needed changing after he was told to shut up.

“I’ve lived here for 38 years.” John Lewis screams.

“Yes, and my friends have owned this land for 60 years”, I parry.

“Change the rules!” John Lewis demands.

Of course, that’s what entitled people like him…. do. The white middle class change the rules to suit themselves when they are too stupid to do a little basic research. Overcome with white privilege and false courage David Astwood the trembling mouse man timidly calls me a liar. Squeaking from the back, raising his skinny fist.

I am used to dealing with the mob. During the meeting I speak confidently and directly to the council members. Most of them are local land owners, fully aware of the trials of gaining planning permission and more significantly… nibyism. The land owners looked piteously at the serried ranks of home owners come to bully me with their thinly disguised homophobia. The application passed without objection. I looked back at Phil Watters the ex solicitor whose lips had now turned blue with rage and… I smiled. I smiled a big, gay smile.

Scott Low is one of the planning enforcement officers from Hereford County Council. Sadly, he has not remained impartial or correctly informed during his investigation of this simple matter. He has allowed himself to be bullied by forces beyond his control. He has confused and muddied what he himself described when we first met as a simple ‘permitted development’.

Last September I called Hereford Council letting them know I intended stabilising our barn on Cherry Tree Lane and reinstate access. Preempting complaints from the neighbours I wanted written confirmation from the council before I started work. I left several messages and emailed the planning department many times but had no luck reaching the duty planning officer. I left one final message before the contractor turned up, making clear I had tried making contact and I would start work on the barn that afternoon. I let them know I would interpret their silence as a tacit agreement: I would stabilise the barn and reinstate access to the land.

Finally, Adam Lewis the duty planning officer called me and agreed I could get on with what I wanted without any planning approval. I asked him to write to me which he did, giving me permission and making clear what I could and couldn’t do. At no time did he say I needed planning permission to reinstate access to the land. He did not mention ‘permitted development’ nor did he mention I would require planning permission to get onto our land or stabilise the barn.

After work began on Cherry Tree Lane Fran Blackwell and others called Scott Low demanding he stop us from working on our land. Scott appeared on site with a big scowl on his face. He told us to stop work which we did immediately. I was advised to apply for retrospective planning permission so employed planning consultant Bernard Eacock to draw up the appropriate plans and make the appropriate application.

Then it became apparent Scott Low was pressured to make my life as difficult as he could. Scott Low insisted we get an ecological survey then retracted his demand. Scott Low demanded our tree surgeon stop work at the site then admitted he did not have the power to request this. I met with Balfour Beatty whose predecessors had resurfaced Cherry Tree Lane six years ago and begrudgingly accepted responsibility for a step up to our land. Balfour Beatty let me know they had no objection to the work I’d carried out yet somehow Scott Low managed to find a highway objection.

We received 19 objections to our proposed access to the land at Cherry Tree Lane from local residents. All of whom have had at least one planning application passed without any objection and some… like Phil and Pam Watters may not have bothered with a planning application at all and just built what they wanted. In their whiney objections the neighbours complained about traffic… yet the Watters are allowed to run a very busy bed and breakfast increasing traffic on the lane by 50% a week.

Standing on our hardcore with Kevin, the Balfour Beatty site manager, one of the neighbours (he looked like I always imagined Eddy Grundy from The Archers) stopped his filthy car and told me I wasn’t welcome on the lane and I should bugger off. We laughed. “God,” Kevin said, “what do they put in the water up here?”

Hereford Council, colluding with the hysterical residents, did not redact personal or inappropriate remarks from the posted online objections. In effect Hereford Council are colluding with gun toting homophobes.

I left Walford Church and drove back to the hotel in Ross. After a short while in the bar with my friends I lay on a huge white bed. I checked the gay dating apps on my phone and soon had a local man riding me like an eager yearling. Enjoying the sweat and rough kisses of yet another closeted brick layer. I didn’t ask his name, his thick arms and thighs burying me in this new flesh I found, burying me enough to erase the faces of those nimby fools at the Walford Parish Council meeting. Enough to transport me far, far away.

The following day Phil Watters, the frail ex solicitor told his next door neighbour he risked getting hurt if he continued supporting my planning application. The same neigbour was forced off the road by Andrew Williams, made to scramble for his life. He was frightened Andrew would kill his dog. The neighbour lodged a complaint with the police. PC Ashley North from West Mercia Police advised the neighbour, ‘things get heated’ when there are planning disagreements. PC North also investigated the homophobic invective and the threats of gun violence.

2.

I returned last year from the USA with a renewed passion for equality. I was interested to know what it was like for gay people in Whitstable. The town of my birth and formative years. There are plenty of out gay couples and singles in Whitstable, Ed and Scott for instance. The guys who own Fred and Ginger builders who seem single handedly responsible for architect lite additions to ugly semis all over town. Their taste is lamentable and obvious… anyone who owns ubiquitous Tom Dixon lighting needs to think twice about their taste level. I think you know what I mean.

Like many gay men they do ok, because they ‘don’t want trouble’ they want others to challenge the status quo and merely enjoy the consequence of difficult people like me making it better for people like them. So, I started looking for examples of homophobia as and when I experienced them.

a) A young man made an appointment with me who wants to go into the film industry. He cancelled at the last moment. He was warned off because I was gay.

That is homophobia.

b) Zana Gradus, the rich owner of systems technology, is a remarkable women but let’s face it… when she tells me I am the kind of man she wants to meet then looks annoyed and tells me that being gay… is a waste.

That is homophobia.

c) When Nikki Billington the owner of JoJo’s Restaurant (arrested for people smuggling) tells her friends she doesn’t believe I am gay and adds a whole cache of equally vile invective from her homophobic canon including a list of resentments she has carried around for twenty years.

That is homophobia.

d) When Nick Batchelor screams he doesn’t ‘give a fuck’ what people do in bed… when I share my experience of being gay adding, ‘you can fuck animals for all I care.’

That is homophobia.

They ask about my work in the film industry, they ask if if they have ever heard of my films? I tell them I made LGBTQ films for niche audiences. They ask me if I ever make normal films.

That is homophobia.

But of course, Nikki and Zana, Nick and the Bulls Hill neighbours can’t be homophobic because they know gays. Ha! That tired old trope wheeled out to pink-wash ingrained homophobia.

My gay history is their homophobic playground and because I, like all lgbt… have had to construct my own definition of homophobia rather than have the IHRA do it for me… all of the above can get away with what they want. I have called the police but the police are really incapable of doing anything.

White heterosexual privilege is beyond question. Most people don’t mean to be stupid or homophobic, they don’t consider themselves cruel. The majority aren’t… they are simply careless, thoughtless, inconsiderate. Yet, some know exactly what they are doing, they expect to shame, malign and diminish me and get away with it. Don’t get me wrong, people like Ed and Scott the gay builders are just as liable as anyone else. In an environment when people like me pull up people like them, fragile white people have everything to lose. Consequently they coalesce around extreme politics and rise up against anyone not like them.

I can’t imagine things getting any better on Cherry Tree Lane, not any time soon. Perhaps I will indeed end up with a bullet in my head. Let’s see how far they’ll go to protect themselves from the other.