Should I get GAY stamped on my forehead and hand out free hugs?

Today I shared a video in the Let Us Eat Cake group on Facebook that came up in my newsfeed, titled, ‘What if we talked to straight couples the ridiculous way we talk to gay couples’. It reminded me of the numerous times I’ve been approached in pubs and bars in NI by complete strangers and told, ‘I love you guys. You’re so cute together. You make such a lovely couple. I have a gay best friend, you know, and he’s lovely.’ Normally, they go in for a hug, insist I add them on Facebook and keep in touch, and then they ask for a dance. Because, you know, all the gays throw moves like a ‘dancing queen’ and have the DNA trait to perform the ‘nobody puts baby in a corner’ dance ensemble from Dirty Dancing. I feel like saying, ‘Sorry, love, but I believe in personal space. I limit my friends on Facebook enough without having to wake up to posts from a complete stranger who changes their profile picture with her ten cats daily. And I couldn’t dance if you paid me, nor would I have the muscle strength to table lift a small child, never mind a fully grown woman!’ Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh and perhaps I’m over-reacting. But surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is odd. I feel awkward approaching a stranger to ask where the toilets are, let alone to begin delving into their sexuality and proclaiming my love for them.

This actually happened to me at a charity do, just after one of our first Let Us Eat Cake meetings. But, to be fair, she was lovely about it. And then it happened again a few weeks later with a group of ladies in a small quiet pub in Enniskillen. I know it’s not a big deal and it is nice that if I hug or kiss with my boyfriend in public then people support us. But it does make me feel like I don’t want the fuss though. Perhaps if I just stamped ‘gay but grumpy’ on my forehead it wouldn’t happen…

– Chris

Some food for thought… other than cake

I watched a programme on tele tonight called ’50 Shades of Gay’. I think it’s part of a wider BBC series on the theme of gay decriminalisation and gay history in the UK. The presenter, Rupert Everett, visited different gay people around the UK and chatted to older people about their experiences. Jeez, it opened my eyes to how gay people were treated and gay culture. I wish there were more programmes like this and more openly gay actors from the UK, more openly gay people in the entertainment industry full stop. More roles models for gay kids!

The first thing that struck me was how often he used the word ‘bent’. Not sure if this came up during our Let Us Eat Cake conversation maps, if not then it definitely has to go on there because I’ve heard this a lot in the past. When he used the word it made me uncomfortable. And thinking more about it, I thought about the definition. So I googled it. Obviously the simplest reason for using the word is because it’s the opposite of ‘straight’ in the sense of heterosexual. It was the synonyms of the adjective for bent that I found interesting.

Some of them – like ‘twisted’, ‘crooked’, ‘deformed’, ‘irregular’ etc. – have been used to insult gay people in the past to hurt them. This idea that we are not ‘fit-for-purpose’, ‘a round peg’, ‘a mistake of nature’, ‘deformed’ or ‘unnatural’… Like our parents should go back to God and ask for a new child using the Sale and Supply of Goods Act!

The second definition that popped out was the British informal use of the word to mean dishonest or corrupt, like ‘a bent cop’. With synonyms like ‘corruptible’, ‘fraudulent’, ‘criminal’, ‘lawless’, ‘villainous’ etc., this reminded me of some of the stuff we chatted about during our meetings. How language is important, how we can reclaim it, how it can be used, but how it can also be abused. I’m thinking I could use the word for my Gay Blood staged photo theme….. Would a caption like ‘Bent Blood’ be offensive??

One last thing that a gent on the programme said made me think too;

‘Is it better now that those people in society who are truly homophobic feel they can’t express themselves in public or they would come under fire… or was it better back then when they would shout and call you a faggot from across the street? At least back then you knew who to avoid’.

He makes an interesting point.

– Chris

March for Marriage Equality: the public, the people & the protesters

What a fantastic day for Northern Ireland! So much love in one place, you could almost taste it in the air. It’s was such a positive feeling being with so many people with common purpose, knowing you’re all there together united for a reason that’s good and meaningful, free from hate and filled with love. Arguably, it’s the most beneficial and wonderful feeling all us homos-apians can experience.

The streets were lined with people from all cultures, ages, backgrounds, faiths and identities, and of course some who happened to stumble across the rally and after realising its purpose happily joined in. I love those guys in particular. It’s great to welcome them and let them see what we see, let them hear what we have to say, engage with them and chat. To show them we don’t bother traveling from the other end of the country and beyond just for a sassy glittery unicorn rainbow party… although that does sound amazing 🙂

Perhaps if some of our politicians did the same, and came and engaged with us, they’d be more open to changing their minds.

What made my day was actually before the rally began. I was busy handing out Love Equality badges and chatting to Raymond and Ciaran, and a woman approached us with her little boy. She was so happy to be given badges and proudly pinned one to her jacket and one on her little lad. He must have been about four or five years old. She chatted away with us for few minutes about her disbelief that equal marriage wasn’t legal, and said many of the same things we say all the time. But the whole time I couldn’t help just look at this little kid, and think I hope things are better for him when he’s my age. And what a wonderful mother who’ll raise him, to be accepting of others and to be accepted himself. And even if this mum is just one in a million – although all mums are the best and are 1 in a gazillion! – there’s hope for the next generation.

I’m sure there may have been a few people there whose passion for marriage equality, and through no fault of their own, felt different today. With their views having been ignored for many years and their own history and experiences as a LGBTQ+ citizen being unfortunately darker than mine. I did see some more – how can I say it – ‘politically directed with colorful language’ banners, indicating that some were taking the opportunity to voice their frustrations. Weirdly, their banner slogans seem more memorable to me, perhaps that’s the point. I’d say I have a lot to thank some of the older marchers for, they were, in some ways, the pioneers and the reason I’ve had an easier time of being gay than they have had.

Who can blame them? Imagine feeling you’re being ignored, with your opinions and voices unheard, being made to feel like a ‘lesser’ version of others in society, being barraged with abuse for simply being who you are. It is no wonder that after so much time being stepped on, called names, picked on, bullied, frowned upon, and being treated unequally, that eventually, just maybe, they might defend themselves, fight back and shout louder. If that seems ‘in your face’ to those who oppose LGBTQ+ people protesting in the streets at today’s march and during Pride, then stuff them!

The Marriage Equality rally today ended with some great speeches that were really inspiring. All the messages were positive. I’m sure they’ll be online. I hope the world sees!

– Chris

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Worlds apart but at home – the power of the Rainbow

Choosing where to go on holiday is hard enough, with costs, accommodation and airlines, but it’s even harder when you have to consider if the host country will accept, or at best, ‘tolerate’ who you are. (I hate the word tolerate. It’s awful to think that someone needs to consciously hold back and behave differently due to their own prejudices, and then feel all proud of themselves for being modern liberal people. Anyways… I digress.)

After searching with Ray, we eventually found a place in Gran Canaria and off we set for ten days in the sun. They have a Gay Tourist Map, which is always a welcome sign. On our first day we headed into a well-known gay area for a cold pint and to explore. As soon as we stepped into the area we could see the beautiful colours of rainbow flag streamers above a bar and I got an immediate feeling of ease. Murals and signage, for drag shows and gay clubs, were all around too. ‘This is fantastic!’, I thought. I felt safe and comfortable like being in the house at home.

It’s weird how powerful a flag can be, how those colors immediately make me feel I can relax and enjoy company with similar people. I’m really glad Raymond is going to be using the theme of flags, demarcation and identity for his staged photo for Let Us Eat Cake because it is so relevant. It’s interesting to think about whether this has more significance for people from NI, where flags and symbolic expressions of identity have such deep-rooted importance for people from all backgrounds in the community.

The streets and bars in the evening where full of same sex couples. They could openly hold hands, kiss, be affectionate and no one batted an eyelid… except me. Gay public displays of affection always immediately attract my attention, probably because it doesn’t happen much in NI through the fear of abuse or being accused of flaunting themselves in public.

It’s just so lovely to see people in love. People who may be at the beginning what could be a lifetime of devotion and adventure. People who may have had to travel across the world to be themselves and to be open.

There were plenty of straight people there too. Everyone loves a cheap cocktail with an umbrella, sparklers and a questionable amount of spirits! There was such a positive and ‘normal’ atmosphere with people going about their everyday business. Wish it was like this at home.

Everyone of them with their own histories and backgrounds. I like to dream and imagine the LGBTQ+ people have loving and accepting families and have had an easy life away from discrimination, but then in reality I’d guess quite a lot of them have had some form of negatively past experiences due their sexuality. Each with their own unique stories.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to think that in future we could travel the whole world and be open all the time? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we didn’t need Gay Maps to find out where it’s ‘okay to be gay’? Where we could show our commitment to our partners, or seek new love and meet people if we are single, without having to target a country where we know people of our ‘type’ would likely be. I’d love to think someday even I wouldn’t notice I’m surrounded by LGBTQ+ people. I would love to not have to be self-conscious and aware when I hold my partner’s hand at home, for us to be romantic and celebrate as a couple, to not look like two male friends until we feel we’re able to ‘announce’ we’re together.

We walked home in the evening holding hands and it was lovely. One of the best parts of the holiday, in fact. It’s something so simple, but we wouldn’t do this at home… unless we’ve had some Dutch-courage!

– Chris

Collaborative Self-Portraits

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Chris Finlay

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Natalie McFall

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Raymond Dunn

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Sarah McMurran

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Ciaran Rafferty

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Paul Campbell

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Anthony Luvera

 

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Making Collaborative Self-Portraits

Raymond, Ciaran and Chris making Collaborative Self-Portraits.

 

Ciaran, Natalie and Sarah creating a backdrop from Conversation Maps for Collaborative Self-Portraits.

 

Sarah, Ciaran and Chris creating a backdrop from Conversation Maps for Collaborative Self-Portraits.

 

Setting up studio for Collaborative Self-Portraits with Conversation Maps.

 

Raymond and Ciaran making Collaborative Self-Portraits.

 

Raymond and Paul making Collaborative Self-Portraits.

 

Raymond and Sarah making Collaborative Self-Portraits.

 

Raymond setting up for Collaborative Self-Portraits.

 

Setting up for Collaborative Self-Portraits.

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Putting a face to the community

Today was a tricky day as due to a last minute change of circumstances, I had to look after my 8 year old brother whilst participating in the project. Considering this slight distraction, we managed to get quite a lot done over this weekend. We carried on mapping our conversations on LGBTQ+ themes, and this really helped to visualise the issues that we would like to focus on in our final exhibition. We also created more Collaborative Portraits, which my brother found hilarious. I think these pictures help to humanise us as LGBTQ+ people (i.e. putting a face to the community). And I also really enjoyed the process of taking the pictures and playing with the professional camera. We decided to use the conversation maps as the background to these images as a reference to all of the work we have achieved over the past few weekends. Most of the group also have their staged photograph ideas on paper now. To be honest, I still don’t have a solid idea of what I will do for the photographs as most of the ideas that I feel passionate about have already been used by other members of the group. I hope to come across another news story in the next month or so before the time comes to stage the photographs. We also set out a plan for after the workshops which involves a lot of internet-based work and communication between the group members. I am very excited about the online-presence of the project as it makes the project feel like it will have a long-lasting outcome beyond the exhibition in Belfast Exposed.

– Natalie

Equal in every way?

I think the name ‘Let Us Eat Cake’ might make people think we are targeting people that may be against gay views. This shouldn’t be the case though, everyone has their own points of view on this subject.

I also think, with gay men, there should be no doubt that they should be allowed to either adopt children or even have a surrogate in the future. No matter who the couple are. Gay / Bi-sexual / Lesbian / Trans… They shouldn’t be discriminated against when in a same sex relationship and want to have children together.

Being very family-oriented and a family man, I would love someday to meet the man who will love me and also one day want to settle and have children with myself.

No-one should have to be annoyed or discriminate against same-sex couples having children together. There are so many A-list celebrities that are married and have children together.

All people in today’s society and communities should be equal in every way.

If all people were born gay, would it be such a big thing if people had to come out as ‘straight’? Why should be frowned upon if / when people come out as LGBTQ+?

– Ciaran

In this day and age

Themes discussed – rights, offensiveness, reach of the project, target audience

Today we discussed the idea of what the title means and how it could be perceived by the public. Some people thought that due to the recent news and appeal about Asher’s Bakery that some may be put off from the exhibition. This got the group chatting about the over-arching meaning of the title and how even though some may be offended, or believe that we are ‘pushing’ a gay / LGBTQ+ agenda, it’s great that it catches attention and will hopefully provide us with the opportunity to engage and challenge perceptions. We discussed how there is a perception in society that young LGBTQ+ people have an easy time and live in a more accepting society. However, this is not always the case and there has been a recent shift in society towards the ‘right’. It is important that we take a stand and have our voices heard, challenge views openly, debate important human rights issues and inequality, and work towards ending the view that we have to ‘seek permission’ for the things most people take for granted. It was noted that even to this day many LGBTQ+ people still feel ‘lesser’, and how this is something both politics and religion have played a hand in.

Ciaran chatted about his experiences and what he wants for the future, to be a dad. He was surprised that people have asked him / told him that he can’t have children. This is something I want also and made me think if I had to choose either the ability to married or to have children which would I choose… Then I thought how ridiculous is my way of thinking, these are two things that everyone should have access to!

The morning discussion has enthused my passion for doing something which, could at least in some way, add a brick to the pavement for the way forward for LGBTQ+ people. Even if our project just gets people thinking or discussing some of the issues, and more positively the good things / role models LGBTQ+ people are going then it is well worth my whilst. I do as always, and am increasingly conscious of, think that I can’t let myself get caught up in a runaway tangent of anger when I think how annoying it is, in this day and age, that there is still a need for our voices to be heard and to increase our visibility.

– Chris

Why Let Us Eat Cake?

This morning we have had an important conversation about the name of our project, but it only stemmed from our thoughts about the title and from there opened up into a discussion about our human rights as LGBTQ+ people, the power dynamic that withholds them from us and how to go about dismantling it.

There were disagreements within even our small group about how to approach this.

The argument was made that in order to bring those who are against us around to bring with us we must be careful not to offend or drive them away from our cause, and that we should be, instead, concentrating on ‘luring’ them in.

This approach does not sit well with me personally. I can see where it’s coming from, and admittedly, I perhaps embody this on a day to day basis – for various reasons – e.g., cheating myself, censoring myself, being careful to ensure that I am coming across as approachable and likeable rather than portraying the ‘hysterical woman’ or ‘radical feminist’ approach. I do these things, for the most part, to keep myself safe. However, I feel strongly that this project is bigger that each of us as individuals. I feel a duty and a responsibility not to shy away from inequality when portraying LBGTQ+ people in the North of Ireland, and I feel that worrying about alienating bigots should not be a concern for us – we should not be tiptoeing around them.

Comparisons were made to racial inequality and how it would be unthinkable to even entertain the idea of pandering to neo-Nazis if a similar project was being made in order to highlight inequalities between white people and people of colour. I think it is all too easy for people who face discrimination and prejudice in the North of Ireland to simply accept it rather than challenge it – and the reasons for this are historically complex. We have learnt to normalise unacceptable behaviour towards us, on various levels, including personal and political, and we have become desensitised to it.

– Rachael

Normal lives

This weekend we focused on potential themes for the project and from this came up with a name. I created a YouTube playlist which we spent about an hour watching. We took down notes on the themes that emerged from the playlist and, aside from marriage equality, one of the main stories we focused on was the Asher’s Bakery being in the news for refusing to bake a cake that supported same sex marriage. From this, we came up with the title ‘Let Us Eat Cake’ for the project. This title has a historical context of rebellion and is also intertextually related to the Asher’s Bakery story. I was initially concerned about focusing the entire project on this single, divisive issue. I am still slightly uncomfortable with this name on a personal level. Both my family, my partner and I believe the Asher’s Bakery incident should not be seen to be a defining factor of the community through this photography exhibition. There are many other important issues and events that have happened in Northern Ireland in regards to LGBT equality, such as the DUP using the petition of concern against Gay Marriage. However, after much debate with the rest of the participants, I do not believe this is an issue that I can personally resolve. We also looked at each other’s photographs from the last month during this session. I had been to New York over Easter so most of my photographs were cityscape related, a few were to do with NYC AIDS walk advertisements and public statements of equality, such as the NIKE store’s inclusion of the sports-wear hijab and pro-equality t-shirts, which I loved. I found it interesting that most of the group’s photographs were based around rural landscapes or urban graffiti artwork. I wonder does this suggest that Northern Irish LGBT people are very influenced by their public setting? I also really enjoyed that most of us depicted the people we care about in our photographs. This reinforces my thoughts in my first post, that LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland live a very normal lives, except for the equality issues we face and I believe this should be truthfully depicted in our work together.

– Natalie