Pleasure/Sexuality Tag

Two of my favourite people whisked me away, draped me in fluff and sequins (“because it’s panto” to quote Arkem), and took me on an adventure to see ‘Queer Stories’. The Embers Collective rekindle the art of story-telling. Lonan Jenkins our compare invites us in with ‘Permission’, a poem by Alabaster dePlume. This is a call to arms to “give yourself permission to do your awesome shit.” Doing something new and being yourself creatively is what the Embers Collective are all about. Together they create an easy, inclusive atmosphere to welcome all, where difference is valued. ‘Queer Stories’ is a cabaret style performance featuring Anya Pearson and Josh Middleton bringing music in and between the lines of the stories by Charlie Wood, Robert Holtom, James Boswell, India Jaggon-Barrett, Dominique Bull and Arkem Mark Walton. “What kind of character do you want to be in this story?” asks dePlume, talking to this particular moment in history. Delving into and beneath their own lives to bring something new, each performer has their own unique perspective on queerness. Adding archetype and mythology they produce stories that charm, move and delight. Every performer has their own distinctive flavour. Thank you Rosie and Julie for engineering for me to see their awesome shit. It was magic.

There is an atmosphere of excited anticipation. The music is already quickening my breath. All ages and genders are wriggling into sequins. At every sink someone is creating a shiny, glittering mirror image of themselves. Socks, leggings, hoodies are shed wrinkled like cast off cocoons on the floor. Wigs, eye lashes, hats and hair flowers are positioned. I love this part of the ritual. This is the part where all the pleasure is still possible. Our fantasy selves have yet to emerge to be admired. Later on having fun requires constant monitoring to stay hydrated, with enough energy, to be on the dancefloor with enough space, not too loud, with one of the DJ’s I love playing just the right tune to make my spirit soar, next to the dancers who are still sober enough to share this perfect moment with me. But for now all this is still to come. We gather, eight of us on the sofa with ‘Hackney Dad’ as they name him and look up into the camera squealing, before we head out into the night.

The party has waves of activity. The highlight for me is watching Dex on the decks. His hands pause limp over the mixer, waiting to bounce the next tune into the mix. I love to watch as his arms, cast adrift, throw the energy of the tune into the room. His gregarious enthusiasm and geek-tech side come together here. Like a map, young people cluster around the house in continents. There are the dancers downstiars, the smoking talkers around the fire bowl, the chilling-outers upstairs, the shouters on the stairs, and the unwell on the floor. I hide in my garret unable to rest, unable to dance on my crook knee. Occasionally I creep downstairs, recoil from the swill of beer on kitchen surfaces, the disregard for proper recycling, and return to my private haven. But my nervous system registers each excited screech, each loud knock on the door. I recognise the time and energy I have put into learning how to party well over the last twenty-four years. There is a narrow edge between enjoyment and hedonism, which I hope they navigate successfully.

When my father died in 1988, I inherited his copy of ‘The Joy of Gay Sex’ by Dr Charles Silverstein and Edmund White. The ‘Rainbow Dads’ podcasts is a sensitive series of conversations that would have spoken directly to his situation, but he was of the pre-internet generation who had to find their own way. “It was just a deep feeling which I had inside of me which became really really powerful” Ahnet explains. He is one of the 5 gay or bisexual dads who talk frankly in this series of revealing podcasts about the “secret places” where queer sexuality often resides. Nicholas McInerny – our enthusiastic and genial host encourages each of them as they describe how they found “the courage to step out of family and social networks to reclaim my identity” in the process of coming out. We hear about their internalised messages of guilt and shame, in a context of different social, cultural and faith backgrounds. Importantly they also acknowledge the hurt caused. They each grapple with the complexities of marriage, their unconscious drives and parenthood. I warmed to these men as they confessed to many, “Oh shit! Moments” in the interplay between self, partner, children and community in order to know as David puts it, “that you are ok, that your life is valid.” Ultimately these are stories about being human, finding healing and learning to love. Their words resonate deeply with me and my own late coming out, but also shed light on my father’s internal conflicts that led to his own declaration of those words, “I’m gay.”

Angry Dan’s bright and cheerful rainbow mural has been defaced by someone who sees Ikea in the colours yellow and blue. I want to reclaim them for sky, sun and sand. It made me realise how much I cherished approaching the rainbow as I walked down the path. To me it says “Hello!” queer or otherwise, with a nod to the variable nature of the weather. This morning it made me consider the fundamental nature of my queer identity. People who don’t know me well often assume that I am heterosexual. I notice how my nature – invisible for many years despite being called ‘Queero’ at primary school – is glad to be seen. Angry Dan – artist and activist also uses painted rainbows and clouds in his ‘blue dot’ series to remind us of the finite resources on this small blue planet.

I am sitting writing on a train full of solitary commuters. It is the rush hour, and we avoid making eye contact. Many people of these same gaze-avoiders will have digital selves who seek connections – for hook-ups, companionship, romance and marriage. Many of us seek intimacy and touch, yet it is only seen in glimpses in public places. We display our revealing selfies and write our explicit desires behind closed doors. I love the audacious al fresco canoodle of this long-ago-teenage couple. What does genuine affection and tenderness look like? How do we find the kind of attention we really want to receive?

We saw ‘Fleabag’ in the muggy dark, holding hands at the local screen; my first time seeing live theatre at the cinema.  Long after we have laughed and cringed at the subsequent two TV series, this is the original monologue. It is darker, funny yet bound with grief and shame. A metaphorical rummage in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s underwear drawer. The tiny strappy ‘Agent Provocateur’ type stuff uncomfortably nestles with big knickers and woolly tights. While she sits or hovers centre-stage on a stool, the technology of live broadcast reveals every artful twitch and grimace of her face. A whole slew of emotions play out between her mouth and eyes, while we gasp.