Category Archives: Opinion

My word of 2016: Luxury

I’ve seen quite a few people choosing their words of the year. Writing words about words – how meta. Most of them have been things like “Brexit” or “privilege” or “post-truth”, but these are all terms packed with meaning; they instantly come to life, teasing out memories and experiences. They’re devastatingly evocative. My word of the year, however, is quite the opposite. It’s a word which is now lost when removed from the confines of a sentence because it has become borderline meaningless.

Luxury.

It’s not uncommon for words to become less effective when they’re used more often. Words like “literally” and “amazing” have long since been dusted off from the shelf of superlatives and dragged down into everyday pedestrian usage, but they do at least retain a certain charm. “Literally” still adds emphasis, while “amazing” has a cute, knowing sarcasm to it. “Luxury”, however, is dead. Here lies Luxury, overused into oblivion, redefined into insignificance.

Luxury used to be unattainable, left only to billionaires, the titled or characters on ’80s soaps. Alexis Carrington in Dynasty lived a life of unrivalled luxury, swathed in furs, with caviar dotted around the room next to the ashtrays, and a gloved hand proffering chilled champagne never more than three feet away.

Historically, us mere mortals in the real world have often aspired to luxury, installing sunken baths or adding conservatories to the back of our knackered terraces, buying Babycham at Christmas, but we never kidded ourselves we were living the lush life. We knew we weren’t superstars with untold riches – and once the novelty faded, we got back to circling shows to watch in the TV Times or buying Wagon Wheels. The trouble with proper luxury was that it wasn’t sustainable for ordinary folk. Real life gets in the way.

But now luxury is something else. We want it so bad we are willing to snatch whatever we can get of it. We are prepared to pretend it’s something else entirely. We are telling ourselves anything even slightly above “bog-standard”, “perfectly suitable”, “basic but functional” or “horrid but appropriate” is a luxury– it is used as a distancing word, rather than a true expression of joy.

See all those “luxury flats” developers can’t help but throw up every time a small plot of land to build on becomes free. Stand still long enough in London and you’ll come to to find an M&S Simply Food built in your knickers with seven floors of luxury apartments above. What makes these flats so luxe? Gold-plated bathrooms?  A personal lift all the way to the top? A helipad? Well, no, sadly. In this case, luxury seems to mean a built-in dishwasher, cream carpets that will fuzz up the minute they meet a sock for the first time and magnolia walls. The shower and taps will be disappointingly chrome, in B&Q’s second cheapest range, and you will share your design of tiles with every other hastily knocked-up overpriced cell from Bermondsey to Bayswater.

A quick search on the Marks and Spencer website for “luxury” is a pretty good thermometer of where the word is going. Luxury canapés include – what else – smoked salmon, that well-known inaccessible food stuffs that proles can only stare open-mouthed at, as it gleams proudly from the shelves in Tesco. A luxury dressing gown seems only to have earned its title thanks to the fact David Gandy is modelling it, and luxury candles have only an inflated price to allude to their luxe credentials.

Supermarkets have long tapped into our snob potential with their silvery-packaged Finest and Extra Special and Taste the Difference ranges, but now it’s not enough for us to merely know we have better sausages than everyone else. We want the faux-luxury experience 24/7. Fauxury, maybe? No? Maybe? No. OK.

A luxury item is now lightly aspirational and reassuringly out of reach of someone who would either use the product wrong or not appreciate it, and thus embarrass the whole concept of luxury and its devotees. On Wednesdays, Luxury wears pink. It Instagrams its starter.

Luxury as a word tells us we can expect to pay more, that the product is not quite as basic as the one £5 cheaper than it and, in the case of most pre-packed food, there’ll be an ingredient within we’re not keen on but won’t complain because we assume it’s a LUXURY ingredient that we don’t understand. The amazing thing about Luxury is that it’s not just othering to people who still buy the basic range, it feeds into our own self-loathing and paranoid that we’re hugely unsophisticated. Case in point: Christmas is coming up and many families will try an “extra special” prepared gravy or stuffing or  pigs in blankets. Don’t bother – they’ll all taste like crap and you will blame your own primitive palate instead of daring to admit that sometimes, just sometimes, things that cost more or pretend to be luxe are actually terrible.

There’s nothing wrong with formerly luxury items becoming everyday. Asparagus! Pumpkins! Mobile phones! Debt! But elevating the standard or passable to deluxe status feels like we’re being cheated.

But maybe I am giving Luxury a bad rap. Is it so wrong to strive for something a little better, your fingers hovering over the prosecco two price-points up because it has a silver label and says it was “specially selected” for the supermarket? Why shouldn’t we reach for the stars and pretend that bottle of fizz is going to be uncorked after a seven-second ride in the express lift to our penthouse? Perhaps I am wrong to want nice things we perfectly deserve to be considered normal and available to everyone, rather than a rare treat we should be throwing ourselves on the ground and thanking a merciful God for.

However.

Let’s not pretend a flat the size of a rat’s eye with a breakfast bar and no room for storage is in any way a luxury just because it has a dishwasher. A turd rolled in glitter is still just that.

Luxury – we barely knew you. Goodbye.

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Did we meme our way to Brexit?
The real basic is you

 

Why people of all ages have lost their hearts to Norwegian teen show SKAM

For the uninitiated, Skam (or Shame in English) is a Norwegian TV show, aimed at teenagers, that details the lives, loves and confusions of the students of a particular posh high school in an Oslo suburb, focusing on one character’s story per season. It’s all in Norwegian, and rough translations are done by amateurs and only available to watch on Tumblr or via download links that disappear almost as soon as they’re made live. And yet, Skam is building a loyal, hungry audience – and it’s not just teenagers who are gripped.

The show is now in its third season and focusing on 17-year-old Isak, who’s on the cusp of coming out thanks to a sexual awakening by new arrival at his school Even, and when I first wrote about it for Gay Times, it was easy to see why some may have thought my interest in it was more down to my being a dirty old man than genuinely interested in the storytelling. It’s an old homophobic trope, that we’re only too happy to encourage, that any older gay man interested in what a teenager has to say has sexual motives, or is a paedophile.

The season 3 trailer featured a highly stylised dreamlike sequence – from Isak’s imagination, I guess – as our hero gazes upon his classmates in the locker room, in wonder, horror and embarrassment, on the outside looking in, when a carton of milk splatters on the locker above him, drenching him in it. It doesn’t take the Enigma machine to work out the symbolism the producers were going for, but the show is known for its glossy, suggestive trailers – the previous series trailer saw the main character, Noora, wake up in a room full of semi-nude beauties and a huge dildo on the floor – and it’s not at all representative of the series as a whole, which has a more diverse set of characters.

“You’re only interested in the men,” said one Facebook commenter. “Sexualising teenagers is OFF,” cried another. But the fact is teenagers are having sex, whether we care to admit it or not, and they certainly sexualise each other. We were all teenagers once and, depending on our confidence and social standing, having sex too. Why should’t we be interested in a show that tells stories like this so sensitively, and so well?

I’m not the only one who finds this window into a world a generation or two below us fascinating. Even Skam’s Tumblr fandom –traditionally behind the velvet rope for most people over 25, includes avid viewers well into their 30s and their 40s. Since writing about the third series I’ve been contacted by people of all ages to say how much they love it and do I know where they can see more.

So why is Skam striking a chord with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s? Is it really just a prurient interest in what teenagers do beyond Snapchat and Insta, or is it because, essentially, teenage problems are timeless – it’s only the tec that has changed? In the case of Isak’s story, it may be decades since some of us came out, and our own situation would have been wildly different from that of a privileged, yet messed up, Norwegian teenager, but the fact coming out still exists at all means we can still feel an affinity – and a pretty strong one at that.

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Coming out isn’t usually portrayed that brilliantly on screen. Oh, sure, we tell ourselves it is, but usually we’re just so grateful to see a gay couple kiss or sit up in bed together that we’ll take pretty much any interpretation of our story. Usually, there’s either generous lashings of angst and misery, or Hollywood impossibility presented as fact, but it’s rare for a drama to get the balance just right – the perfect mix of wish-fulfilment, hope (both raised and dashed), lust, longing and, more importantly, everyday life. Because, even if your sexuality is tearing you to shreds on an hourly basis, life goes on, and you have no choice but to live it.

Isak and Even’s story begins with glances across a cafeteria but is given a kick start as they both escape a boring extracurricular group and go for a smoke. Quickly, Isak is hooked, doing all the stalker routines we never admit to anyone that we ourselves do – Googling Even, scrolling through his Insta, watching his videos and finding out what he’s into. Soon, Isak is immersing himself in all things Even, watching his favourite movies, listening to his preferred music and even having cardamom on a cheese toastie (long story).

Dramas come in the form of girlfriends, fear of homophobia and insecurity, which all block the path of true love. The use of girlfriends in the story is particularly painful to watch at times: many gay men have been guilty of using teenage girlfriends as smokescreens, playing with their emotions – very seldom in malice, but playing all the same – to hold on to their social standing or escape bullying. It’s a stark reminder that homophobia is harmful to everyone, LGBT or not.

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The long silences and stultifying scenes of pretty much nothing are the most realistic of all. One scene consists almost entirely of Isak waiting for his sandwich to be toasted and nothing else. That’s the thing with coming-out stories, they can’t be quickly packaged up into convenient episodes. They don’t lurch from one dramatic scene to another, with killer lines delivered, before sweeping out of a room victoriously. They lumber along, slowly. They’re the dimmest of lights from the last embers of the fire, barely visible, but still not giving up hope that somehow, from somewhere, some kindling will turn up and make them burn brighter than before. But while we wait for the spark, we remain on a low light.

We go to school, we queue for our lunch, we listen to the teacher and we do our homework. We get the bus, we watch our favourite TV shows – and we still enjoy them – and we get the sleepless nights, but not every night. Life goes on, and while we may pine and worry, for the most part it’s buried deep within. It’s not so much a secret, or something shameful, just the thing that you can never acknowledge is happening, or tell the world, because once you do there is never any going back, and while the thought of it both excites and terrifies you, you cannot imagine life beyond it. You think it can never be. But all you know it is everything you long for and everything you’re scared of. It is in turns the entire world to you and utterly meaningless.

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This is why Skam works so well. It’s both the coming-out we recognise and the one we wished we had. All the things Isak is dying to say, we wanted to say too, and when he says them and gets them all wrong and moves his progress at least ten steps backward, we nod and say, “Yes, that’s how it would have gone for me if I’d dared to say it” and when he wins, and has Even with him again – whatever we may think of the suitability of that relationship – we wonder if that could’ve happened to us. And perhaps then we kick ourselves for wasting so much time, or not taking a chance. Every lurch in Isak’s stomach is our own. We root for him, and he both delivers and disappoints. Maybe we can’t exactly identify with him now, but we can relate. We are all Isak at some point in our lives, but Isak can’t be all of us. When we are older and more “sane and sorted” and grappling with adulthood and middle-age, we forget about these days in a way – how we felt, what it was like to be lonely in crowded rooms, looking for a sign somebody understood. Skam has relit the fire in many, and it’s a valuable lesson for us to remember that coming out has not got any more fun in the last 20 years. We look back and recognise the naivety of their youth – they think this is the biggest problem they’ll ever have. We know different. 

It’s an immersive, almost claustrophobic experience, with clips added to the SKAM website in real time, and screenshots of text messages between Isak and the other characters. We’re living every moment with him.

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Of course, the story has to move forward, so suspension of disbelief is required at certain stages. The flirtation kind of comes too quickly – although the bonding over music and dope is certainly how a lot of these things start, turning from hero worship into attraction before you’ve even realised it. And of course the sad truth is they are very often a one-way thing. It’s almost unthinkable that Isak would somehow manage to fall for another ostensibly straight guy that fancied him back, although Isak did harbour a crush on his best friend Jonas for long enough, which was unrequited. The show happens in real time, so the entire story has to be played out within the confines of the ten-week run, and this limited timeframe means silences that could last months have to be broken, but Isak’s sexuality hasn’t come into question overnight. The previous two seasons have touched upon it, from his interesting browsing history to his sham girlfriends, and even being outed by a ouija board; the evolution of this storyline has been totally on the level.

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While Isak isn’t exactly a hugely popular student, some LGBT viewers whose adolescence was more of a struggle could be forgiven for feeling mildly envious of his situation. In one scene, shortly after he comes out to his close gang of buddies, they coach him on how to play it cool over text with Even. Why couldn’t I have had a a group of lads like that, you may wonder. How different might things have been if I had? You’re thrilled for Isak because even though it’s painful for him, he has that support network, he gets to go to the big parties, and you know, above all, he has time and progress on his side so it’s likely he’s going to be all OK. And even though Isak is a fictional character, your envy turns to hope.

But just as every coming-out is different, so must Isak’s be too. Years of unrequited crushes, furtive masturbation and trying to pass as straight is a pretty thankless way to spend your youth, and while we may wish our journey could’ve been as romantic and charged with passion as Isak’s, we know deep-down we couldn’t have that kind of coming-out for ourselves, and nor should we have. How we came out and dealt with our sexuality in our younger days made us who we are now. For better or worse, there was only one road to take. The main hope is that Isak’s story will inspire someone yet to embark upon their journey, and, when they do, keep them on course.

Fasten your seatbelt, kid, it’s going to be a bumpy forever.

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Images: NRK/YouTube

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– The day homophobia died
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Bloggers are not the new pop stars

I had assumed it was all over.

I’d been brushing off my darkest black, digging out my finest mantilla and clutching my rosary in preparation for the funeral procession. Blogging was dead and buried, you see; its life force finally expunged thanks to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Medium. Or at least, that’s what I was led to believe, in pieces I read. By bloggers. On blogs.

But while I may have shed a tear for the demise of blogging, I wasn’t too perturbed, because I knew it would soon rise once more relatively quickly – probably before the sandwiches from its funeral tea had curled at the edges. It usually does.

I didn’t have to wait too long, because apparently, not only is blogging not dead, it is the new pop music. Oh yes! Take this excerpt from an email I received from a blogging network just this week. Step the hell aside, Calvin Harris – here is my moment.

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Well! Who knew? One minute blogging is being read the last rites, now, bloggers are “glitzy celebrities” with “the world at their feet”. A cursory glance at my inbox, not to mention down at my immaculately polished Derbys, tells me this may not be happening for every blogger. I see no mountains of invites; my toes do not rest upon the Earth’s mantle.

So which is it? Is blogging throwing shapes to the sound of its own death rattle, or is it a den of internationally renowned celebrities, elegantly stepping off planes and into sponsorship deals as far as the eye can see? Well, it’s a bit of both, for relatively few. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle. Continue reading Bloggers are not the new pop stars

A clueless insider’s guide to London

Social anxiety manifests itself in many ways, but one of my main triggers is being asked to recommend a restaurant. All of a sudden, I turn from a relatively clued-up man with 14 years of London experience behind him into an unimaginative drone whose horizons are narrower than a gnat’s waist. Where have I even been? Did I like it? What does my recommendation say about me as a person? Will they judge me if they have an awful time? I never go anywhere! Why are they asking?

The trouble with living here every day and just getting on with my life is that it’s rare for things to register. I don’t really retain vivid memories of any of my London experiences, as I’m not a tourist, and I have a few favourite things I do often but would never dream of imposing on anyone else. London just is, it’s something that’s happening to me, not a standout event. So whenever anyone asks me to recommend a place to eat or an activity, in my capacity of a London expert – merely because I’ve lived here so long – I wrinkle my brow in faux-concentration and say, “Oh, let me think; I’ll get back to you” and then I never do.

But if there’s one thing that will get me talking, it’s cold hard cash. So when eBookers got in touch saying they were looking for London-based bloggers to share their tips for a new guide, how could I say no? All I’d have to do is think of some tips, write a blog (and hello here we are) and that would be that. But contractual obligations aren’t very sexy, so I thought I’d add some value and explain why I chose what I chose. You can see the full guide here, with some good tips from other bloggers. My contribution is here. Here are the 5 things I picked: Continue reading A clueless insider’s guide to London

Let me get a selfie

When was the last time you took a selfie? How often do you taken them? Do you share them? If you do, how many shots does it take before you settle on the perfect one? Did you tell a tiny fib to yourself as you totted up the numbers there? When it comes to admitting our selfie habits, it seems only questions about our sexual history come with more awkwardness.

I take them almost every day, usually a burst of about three or four. I take them and forget all about them; I don’t tend to make them public. They’re just for me. Sometimes I’m drunk, sometimes I’m worried about my hair and sometimes I wonder how I’m looking in this light, but I take them, am momentarily reassured – or, more usually,  horrified – and then they’re out of my head. I’m only ever reminded of them when I scroll through my camera roll, looking for a sassy meme or that GIF of Sable in Dynasty looking back over her shoulder and laughing. How strange, I sometimes think, that I took a picture of myself then. What was I thinking, I wonder. But I never know the answer. Well, almost never. There’s one set of selfies I remember very well, that’s with me every day. Continue reading Let me get a selfie

Happy birthday Madonna: please never, ever give in or “put it away”

Another year, another set of birthday candles for Madonna. She turns 58 today. For the 30 or so years Madonna has been putting the cat among the pigeons in the A-list, she’s gone from boom to bust to high to low to tasteful to tacky and everything in between – but she’s always been big.

While most of her indiscretions have been eventually forgiven – or at the very least politely ignored because, hey, it’s Madonna – the one thing Madge is never allowed to forget is one of the very few things in her life she cannot control.

There are plenty of reasons to roll your eyes at Madonna: the slow degeneration of her music material, the ever-increasing cost of tickets to see her perform live, the walking nightmare of problematic hell that is her Instagram account, but Madonna’s crime seems to be the one that most of us commit eventually, if we’re lucky. She got old.

Madonna has always delighted in challenging people’s perceptions of appropriateness. From drying her stubbly armpits in a dirty washroom in Desperately Seeking Susan and flicking herself off on a giant bed while two gay men in conical bras looked on during the Blond Ambition tour to portraying the violence of war in the withdrawn video for American Life, no taboo seemed too small for La Ciccone to overturn.

Aside from a very staid decade or so where Madonna had a misguided, but spirited, go at being a submissive wife to director Guy Ritchie, her frankness, refusal to conform and power to shock have been her lifeblood; they have kept her career ticking over and front-and-centre for over three decades, a feat few other popstars – male or female – can boast.

Almost everyone has an opinion on Madonna, and the criticisms against her stack up like building blocks in a Guinness World Record attempt to reach the moon, but, thus far, Madonna has always been able to count on at least one demographic for continued, unwavering (and some might say blinkered) support – gay men.

Back when Madonna was still young enough to make it on to the higher reaches of those all-important, horrific ‘Sexiest Women’ lists that even the most highbrow of magazines insist on publishing, her stance as an awkward, complaining outsider spoke to the gay community in a way few have managed before.

While some might argue her status as a pioneer may be exaggerated and seriously flawed, she at least gave the impression she was doing something new. She championed gay rights, spoke out in defence of her gay friends and hired gay dancers for her tours, and gay men and women lapped it up, long before ‘Mother Monster’ wobbled along in shoes shaped like an armadillo to tell everyone they were ‘born this way’.

Madonna’s openness about sex, and ability to unashamedly enjoy having it, set a precedent for almost every female pop singer who came after her. And all was well with the world, because Madonna was still young and wrinkle-free.

Sex is no longer the sole property of the young. Everyone’s eyes have been opened to the idea of silver shagging. Even Hollywood, the high altar of youth and beauty, has given the nod of approval to the idea of wrinkles as sexual leads, but it seems Madonna’s brand of sexuality is strictly off-message.

While it’s no surprise heterosexual men have zero interest in seeing Madonna in her knickers – they are, after all, force-fed a whole new bevy of beauties to adore daily, all young enough to be their daughters – it’s much more disappointing to see that some of Madonna’s detractors are the very men who gave her a leg-up to her pedestal in the first place.

Trawl any so-called fan forum and you’ll see the same disparaging remarks: outrage at her supposed ‘pussy popping’, refusal to ‘grow old gracefully’ (an awful, po-faced phrase whose retirement should come much sooner than Madonna’s) and complaints that the erstwhile Material Girl is as old as their own mum. I know, right? She has birthdays! And the numbers keep going up and up!

“Ewww” said one forum member, in his late 20s, “nobody wants to see that dusty old vagina any more.”

The irony being, of course, that gay men don’t usually ever want to see a vagina, be it in the first flush of youth or swathed in mothballs.

“God, her scrawny arms are horrible,” noted another armchair model scout, “and her hands are all gnarled.”

Gay men, it seems, are now in charge of what is sexy and what is not. Despite their previous interest in women’s looks usually being limited to slagging off their clothes (another totally ridiculous notion; why the hell do women listen to us?) and cooing over their hair once they’ve finished blow-drying it, all of a sudden these guys are the go-to experts when it comes to what the world should find shaggable, even if they don’t want to do the nasty with her themselves.

The idea that one’s sexuality is redundant once grey hairs become the ruling majority leaves a much nastier taste in the mouth than any French kiss from Madonna would. Remember the outcry when she appeared on stage with Canadian rapper Drake and gave him a snog?  What was that really about? The fact he didn’t know it was going to happen? Or her age? (Spoiler: it was her age.)

The media has long been puzzling over what to do about Madonna’s refusal to put her dress back on. Since she deftly shimmied over that magic line into her 50s, actions previously deemed ‘shocking’ or ‘thought-provoking’ are now rebranded as ‘sad’, ‘desperate’ and ‘attention-seeking’, as if Madonna is in any way unique as a singer to want all eyes to be focused on her.

Vanity Fair scratched its chin over the whole topic of Madonna’s sexiness as she prepared to turn 50 in August 2008: “Madonna made her fortune selling sex–what will she sell when the thought of sex with Madonna seems like a fetish?” it mused.

At 2015’s Met Gala – itself a seven-hour love letter to bad taste, filthy lucre and vacuous celebrity – Madonna bared her arse to the baying paparazzi. Out came the usual commentators moaning Madonna had let them down, and why couldn’t she just age gracefully. Why was she trying to be young? All her former allies were present and correct, knitting at the guillotine: gay men, middle-aged women, her peers.

Madonna’s propensity for showing us what’s inside her thong has long been dismissed as a publicity stunt or an attempt to stay relevant, but if anything her knicker-flashing has led to lower returns when it comes to record sales. The much-hyped Erotica failed to ignite much reaction in the shops, except for “Ewww, she’s got a toe in her mouth”, and she was younger and tauter then. What hope for her now?

The big mistake we’re all making with Madonna is we think she’s doing this so we will find her sexy, that she wants us to desire her, envy her, find her attractive. I don’t think that’s what she’s about. As a younger star she pushed the boundaries of sexual freedom, of what it meant to be a woman unafraid to do what they liked, who weren’t in thrall to any man. Now, at 58, Madonna is making us think yet again. Why do we have to put our bodies away as we age? Who exactly makes these rules? What’s the golden moment the big switch, where one day you are still young enough to bare your flesh while the next you must hide down a well?

While my own interest in Madonna as a popstar wanes with every so-so record, the one thing I do think she’s getting right is saying an emphatic “fuck you” to the ageist brigade, most of them still young enough to be able to think of their dotage as a far-off prospect, as fantastical as a fairy-tale ending.

But old age does not wait to be awoken by true love’s kiss, nor validated by a handsome prince clambering up the ivory tower by way of a long plait of golden hair. Age is coming for all of you, and no amount of denial or mock horror at Madonna in her scants is going to change that. Madonna is living it now.

Ageing is changing. We are living longer and, despite rising obesity levels, a growing number of us are more health conscious. Frivolity and fun and, yes, sex, does not belong to the young. Our bodies are our own, to do with as we wish. I may not find her titillating, and, yes, she’s attention-seeking, but I’m so glad Madonna does what she does. I will not be defined by my age; I will decide my own destiny when it comes to getting older.  And so will Madonna. She still finds her body fascinating, and presents it as art in her stage outfits and photoshoots. Why does this confidence trouble us so? Remember how bored and downtrodden Madonna looked when she pretended to be the perfect English housewife for Guy Ritchie – do we want her back there?

How many of Madonna’s critics would be happy to walk so willingly, with head bowed, to the knackers’ yard once they hit 50 and beyond? And when they reach that era – where young people would have you believe there’s nothing but gummy smiles and osteoporosis, dicky bladders and forebodingly steep staircases – they should remember Madonna: uncompromising, unbroken, unrepentant.

Let’s hope when the naysayers approach their twilight years they still have someone close at hand to tell them they look great in their underwear, that they’re still hot and wanted. An empty bed, free of desire and passion, may as well be a grave.

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A different version of this appeared on this blog in 2012.

Time to cage the Daily Beast within

Have you noticed how obsessed with gay sex straight people are? First they’re telling us Aids is a “gay disease”, then trying to tell us we shouldn’t be allowed PrEP on the NHS to prevent it. Next, they’re up in arms about chemsex. It almost makes you nostalgic for the days they joked about lesbians using strap-ons, or got drunk and asked gay men “who is the woman and who is the man?”

Now, no question is taboo, no subject verboten. Thanks to Grindr, which straight people don’t seem to realise paved the way for all their dreary flirtations on Tinder, what we do and the way we do it has never been more fascinating. We hook up! With strangers! And just do it! Then we leave! Ignoring that this is what’s been happening in straight nightclubs up and down the country since Elvis first swivelled his hips,  straight people can’t wait to get right in there and have good old nosey.

Our latest infiltrator is Nico Hines, a British, heterosexual journalist commissioned, for reasons that I’m sure seemed very sound in whichever MDMA-fuelled meeting it was dreamed up in, to write a piece for the Daily Beast about gay athletes in the Olympic Village, who were – shock horror, clutch your pearls and kiss a chimney sweep – using dating and hookup apps to meet other people for sex.

Nico, like every good journalist, wanted to put himself at the heart of the story, so he uploaded his avi to a series of different apps, put out a few ‘stats’ and sat and waited. Whether it was a slow day at the Olympic village, or the Brazilian humidity had short-circuited everyone’s wires, I couldn’t possibly say, but soon our intrepid reporter was inundated with replies on Grindr, the most popular hookup app for gay men.

The story – its news angle so toothless it can barely manage soup and liquidised veg as it lies dying on its hospital bed of irrelevance – goes that gay men short on time are usually pretty direct when it comes to asking for sex. They ask for photos, share their stats and locations and cut straight to the chase. Nico claims that he was only ever honest with these guys in his replies – that he was not only a journalist but straight and married – but the act of putting your photo on an app like this is an understanding you are available. It is an invitation to be wooed, propositioned or demanded of; it is an acceptance of an invisible, unspoken code. “I am here for the same reason as you. I understand you. I want this too.”

Nico, of course, did not understand. Picking over grammatical errors and curious ways closeted athletes – many of whom are from countries where the discovery of their homosexuality would make life very difficult for them – hid their identity while they tried to arrange hookups, Nico gleefully, and almost spitefully, held up these poor guys to ridicule. Oh, he may not be directly taking the piss or making any specific homophobic comments, but the malice is there, thanks to the power of suggestion. Someone asked for his “sex foto”. Another sent him the location of his apartment so he could come and meet him. Some of them used odd photos to conceal their identity. How strange, Nico seems to be saying, how queer. Isn’t it funny how the dear little gays do it.

Among the most malevolent aspects of this noxious, patronising horror show is Nico’s disrespect for these guys’ anonymity. He reels off guys’ stats, their countries of origin and even the sports they compete in, under the guise of showing the variety of guys available and looking for sex. This is not only cruel, it’s irresponsible. As I said, a lot of these sportsmen come from countries where any revelation of their sexuality could result in their lives being made difficult or, in some cases, snuffed altogether. Whether we like it or not, a great number of people – increasing if the current political climate is anything to go by – think homosexuality is wrong, or shameful, or disgusting. These guys aren’t just hiding their sexuality because they’re worried about product endorsements – they’re trying to stay safe. Nico shows no regard for this, however, he’s got 1,500 prurient words to file. Why would he even think of the consequences of outing? He’s never had to; it’s not his world. He’s a visitor, and an inconsiderate one at that. And, let’s remember: this could literally get someone killed. Sexuality isn’t a game; it is not content. It is our life.

The sad thing is it’s a missed opportunity for the Daily Beast, if not for Nico. While the author may like to tell himself his was a human interest story and not a patronising smirk, there was a genuine tale to be told here. The story of how the Olympics, and the availability of hookup apps, is allowing gay athletes from homophobic countries to express themselves and have sex could’ve been genuinely informative and enlightening. It could have held these countries to account, asked what “inclusive” events like the Olympics can do to reinforce themes of freedom from oppression, maybe even talked to these athletes about what it was like to hide who they really were – and it could’ve provided work to a gay journalist to tell it.

The gay hookup apps we “hide” on exist because of straight people. You don’t like it when we’re doing our thing in public, you never have, so we have to find people who understand us, who want the same things we do. We can’t trust you in the real world, so we shrink into our own, we put up barriers to be among people we can believe in, and, sadly, those safe spaces we create are too often compromised by our own behaviour – we don’t need you making it worse and breaking our trust. We don’t need any more Nicos.

LGBT people don’t need straight people dipping their toe in to our sexuality and dutifully reporting back how weird and wonderful we are. We need them to make room – LOTS of fucking room – for us to tell our stories under our terms. We’re not here to entertain you, or amuse you; our life is not a cabaret act and you are not the peanut gallery. We’re here to tell you: you don’t get to speak for us anymore. You don’t get to expose us for your own pleasure, to out us before we’re ready, to control the conversation. You don’t get to show us off like an artefact, to be brought down from the top of the cupboard and dusted off whenever you remember we exist.

Move over. You’re getting it all wrong. We can drive from here.
I also wrote about this for International Business Times