Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Nick Clegg and the bigots

The following piece appeared in and was later picked up by i.

The Daily Mail, there’s a surprise, is leading the charge against Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg about the supposed “fury” at the use of the word “bigots” in a draft speech to describe opponents of marriage equality. The offending word has now been replaced by “some people”.

The new version of the speech was delivered last night at a celebrity-studded event marking the end of the consultation on proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples.

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted in the Mail as saying that “many Christians and non-Christians […] will be highly offended to be called bigots” adding that they “should not be treated in such a way”.

While he stops short of making his usual deluded claim that Christians are persecuted in the UK, this is clearly the subtext here.

He also has the gall to claim that he is “totally for equality” while in the same breath saying that same-sex couples should be excluded from marriage. How is that equality, exactly?

Right-wing Tory MP Peter Bone and Colin Hart, of the Coalition for Marriage campaign group, are also asked for their wisdom on the subject. One calls for Clegg’s dismissal, the other claims that the DPM is attacking the British public as a whole and should concentrate on fixing the economy.

Nick Clegg has now reassured every one that this is a word he “had no intention of using, would never use. It is not the kind of word that [he] would use.”

There has been claimed on social media that the inclusion and retraction of the word from the speech had been planned all along. Whether that was the case or not, it certainly put the cat among the pigeons.

But what is a bigot exactly?

According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance.”

Since the government announced its intention to open civil marriage to same-sex couples, the usual phalanx of religious leaders, mostly, have been highly vocal in airing their opposition to the move. They cite their deeply held beliefs on the subject as reason enough.

The Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the attacks, sometimes using some rather questionable rhetoric in the process.

For example, Cardinal O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has described marriage equality as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” The Pope has said that it is a threat to “the future of humanity itself”.

There are many more examples of such outbursts and never are the slightest rational arguments ever produced to support those farcical claims.

If this is not hateful prejudice stemming from obstinate devotion to an opinion, then I don’t know what is. Carey and Co may not like the word and could probably find others they prefer but the cap clearly fits.

The only reason why parts of the hierarchy of some religious groups are so vociferous, can, I think, be found in the consistent erosion of religious influence in the social and political life of the country.

A survey of young people published only today shows that only 4% of 16 to 24-year-olds said that having religious faith or beliefs is the most important moral issue for them.

Could therefore attacks on LGBT people be a last-ditch attempt at regrouping and unifying a dwindling and disparate flock by targeting an easily recognisable, perceived threat?

LGBT people are, sadly, one of the last identifiable groups that it is still remotely socially acceptable to attack. Thankfully mentalities are evolving fast and this will hopefully not be the case for much longer.

In any case, let’s not forget that the proposals only concern civil marriage. The views of religious bodies are therefore far from relevant to the debate and should certainly not be given the prominence they enjoy in the media.

Coming back to the Daily Mail and Lord Carey’s mock outrage at being finally publicly called what they really are, it is important to remember that the consistent attitude and words of those that listen to them are often much more hurtful than the one-off use of a word that seems to describe them fairly accurately.

Around the country, LGBT people are daily submitted to very real abuse, sometimes physical abuse. The complaint that offensive language is being used against opponents of equality would perhaps be taken more seriously if those people also rose against the offensive language so regularly thrown at LGBT people and if they refrained from employing such language themselves.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Panoramic views of London

Shard and Strata
On Saturday I had decided to spend some time wandering around Vauxhall with a friend.

After meeting at the RVT, we walked across the Pleasure Gardens, having recently seen an exhibition on the former attracts that used to stand on the site. After a quick look at the animals of the Vauxhall City Farm and a cup of tea in a local greasy spoon, we moved back towards the river.

As we were passing an anonymous office block, I noticed a couple of sign on the pavement advertising an exhibition of photographic portraits. After some hesitation we decided that the images must be on display inside that office block which looked abandoned. We walked in and were informed that the exhibition of 200 images was indeed using the 21 floors of the empty building.

The exhibition is organised by The Photographic Angle, a charity that "holds free exhibitions that travel across the UK transforming otherwise empty spaces into temporary galleries".

We took the lift directly to the top floor of the building where views on the whole of London welcomed us. I am ashamed to say that I paid very little attention to the few portait we came across, so focused was I at shooting my own images.

I had planned to return on Sunday for the exhibition itself but I didn't get to do that in the end.

My images can be viewed on Flickr, here.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

An interview with... me

I have been asked by one of my contacts, who is a journalist, to answer a few questions as a French gay in London for an idea he wants to pitch to an editor. Some of these I found difficult to answer, as will be obvious by the brevity of my answers.

I have no idea if and where it's going to be used, so I thought I would share it here anyway, in case anyone is interested.

Update: A version of this interview has now been published on Têtu's blog.

1) How was growing up in Dijon?
Although I was born and later I went to uni there, I didn't actually grow up in Dijon but in a big village some 50km away. My childhood was fairly uneventful if somewhat untypical for a country kid. Fairly early it became apparent that I was different and although the other kids weren't nasty about it they weren't all that welcoming either. 

Soon as I learnt to read, I took refuge in books, reading more or less any novel that came my way. I only really looked up when I got to Uni, over a decade later, and by then, years spent in my own head hadn't prepared me well for that socialising malarkey. To this day I am very much the loner, despite my best efforts.

2) When did you move to London and why?
Somehow I ended up studying English at uni. This means that visiting a native-speaking country is always more or less at the back of your mind. Eventually I spent a week in London visiting a guy from my neck of the woods who'd moved there a few years previously. He was working, so I spent much of my time wandering around on my own. 

Pretty soon it became clear that, as corny as it sounds, I had fallen in love with the place, its chaotic energy, its vibe. I still remember a feeling of relief, almost physical, like a weight had been take off my shoulders, at being there. 

I went back to uni, went through ten months of national service and then I had to make a decision as to whether I would go back again to uni and study to become a teacher (something I didn't want to do) or move to London, at least for a while. 

One early July morning in 2000, I got in my car, which was filled to the gills with my stuff and I made my way to the big smoke. I haven't really looked back.

3) You photograph men for a hobby. Did you photograph any men back in France?
Photography is one of my creative outlets, and it seems to be taking centre-stage at the moment. Until recently I was a member of a choir (see below). I also write a little and contribute to various publications. The only reading I seem to find time for these days are the books for the reading group I have been moderating for over 11 years.

Photographing men is something I have only started doing very recently, after joining the Gay Photographers Network. I only really discovered photography in 2002 after I bought a small compact digital camera for a trip to Sydney with the choir. Before that I was interested but somehow my pictures were always rubbish with an old-fashioned film camera.

Digital photography really freed me and the intervening years have been a slow learning process, shooting mostly building and things that don't move. A process that is still a long way from completion, if there is such thing. 

I have had some of my images used by various organisations (some quite prestigious) and this year through the Network I had work displayed in two exhibitions. Since the members (some of whom are professional togs) do a lot of portraiture and male form photography, it seemed natural for me to give it a go. I am rather enjoying it but the need for a model and ideally a studio don't make it any easier.

4) How do gay men in England seem to differ to gay men in France?
I am not really sure. I am guessing they aren't that different though. I had very little contact with other gay men when I was in France. My only experience of a French gay scene was that of Dijon, almost 15 years ago. It wasn't very developed. 

By the time I left, there were a couple of night bars, a few gay-friendly restaurant and a club doing gay nights on Sunday evenings. Not to forget a couple of cruising grounds and a sauna. Since then it seems to have shrunk back to even less.

The club was called L'an-fer (a not-very-good phonic pun on enfer (hell)). The inside was made to look like a Metro station. It was very good with, I think, an international reputation for electronic music. I saw Carl Cox there and Daft Punk when they were just about to make it big. Laurent Garnier, who became quite famous for a while, is supposed to have started there as a DJ. I met my first failed attempt at a boyfriend there.

5) You're a member of London's Gay Mens Chorus. Have you encouraged them to sing anything in French before?
I have now left the Chorus, after over 10 years spent as a member. I didn't really have to encourage them to sing in French. The Chorus is musically quite adventurous and we have sung in a variety of languages, including Polish, Catalan, Italian, German and of course French, several times.

6) You work for an anti-smoking charity here. Do you think the situation is better or worse in London? French bars often have smoking booths etc.
The UK has some of the best tobacco control regulations in the world so a comparison is perhaps unfair but I think that France is catching up.

7) What do you miss most about France?
I can't really think of anything.

8) If you move back to France? what would you miss most about London?
The longer I stay here the fewer reasons I have to go back, if any. London is home for me now and there would be much to miss should I have to leave it.

9) Which sights in London would you recommend to a French visitor?
London has so much to offer, catering for virtually all tastes (apart perhaps for sun-lovers). I think my suggestions would very much depend on what I know of the person I would make them to. Walking around the place and observe what is happening is usually great fun.

10) And finally, who's your favourite Spice Girl?
I don't have one.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Straight boy

Following my shoot in Brighton in June, Mark, the model, introduced me to one of his friends, the lovely Richard, to have a similar treatment inflicted on him.

Last Saturday, we finally met for a few hours of fun. Without access to an practical enclosed space, the shoot was in the urban wilds of Waterloo. I had made a quick reconnaissance the week before for what was my first proper shoot alone with a model. Just us, the clothes (some), the light (whatever Mother Nature would give us) and the location... Oh and my camera!

While not being outstanding, the results were quite satisfactory. After the initial stiffness, we soon relaxed enough to create a varied set of images of decent quality. The feedback I got from fellow photographers and friends was quite encouraging.

The added fun to the day was to get a straight guy to take his top off, put on eyeliner and eye shadow, and wear pearls. And kudos to him for letting himself be queered with such good grace.

The images can be viewed on Flickr, here.