A morning walk

Every morning on my walk to work from the station I pass an elderly couple walking into town. They walk quite slowly; it probably takes them an hour or more to get into town so it doesn’t matter which train I get on or how early or late I’m running; I always pass them.

They are old. So old. Certainly in their eighties at least. I’d guess they have half a lifetime of memories in India, shared. And they walk together, side-by-side, always in silence, and always very slowly.

They are always immaculately dressed, beautiful clothes, clean and pressed. Sandals even in winter. Long, flowing, and brightly colored fabric, probably decades old. And the smell of beautifully scented soaps and lotions fills the air as I walk by them,

It’s actually been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen them. We’ve never interacted, so I haven’t noticed that I haven’t seen them, I haven’t missed them — except yesterday I wondered about them as I walked past the tree where I would sometimes have to give way to them if we arrived there at the same time because the footpath isn’t wide enough. But it didn’t dwell on my mind.

Until today as I was walking to work from the station I passed him in the street. He was walking a little faster than normal. Alone. Wearing pajamas and slippers. Smelling slightly stale. I said hello; he didn’t answer me. I could see the pain on his face.

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Anger

[This is part one of a short series on emotional abuse in domestic relationships. This piece discusses anger, aggression, emotional control and manipulation.]

“You’re a good influence on him. He’s more mellow with you. I love his bitterness, and you mellow him. You’re good for him.”

She told you that, and she was right. She’s known him longer than you have, and she knows how angry he can get. His angry outbursts. He gets angry quite a lot.

“That must be awful for you.”

Not really, right? He gets angry quite a lot, but only at other people. His anger is never directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is never directed at you. He speaks to you calmly, never angrily. With you he is mellow. He tells you that you calm him down. His friends notice you calm him down. It’s so good that you met him: you’re the only person who he never gets angry at; he’s so lucky to have found you.

He’s manipulating you. This is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse that is directed at you, and you haven’t noticed. He’s tricking you into being afraid of him whilst believing you trust him.

No, you’re not afraid of him! You do trust him!

You’re not afraid that at some point his anger will be directed at you? That he’ll become aggressive towards you the way he is aggressive towards other people who piss him off? No, of course you’re not, because, see, he only gets angry and aggressive towards people who piss him off. All you have to do is never piss him off. All you have to do to avoid is anger is to simply not fuck up. You’ve got this. You can do this. Avoiding his aggression is something you are responsible for: just don’t fuck up.

And there. He’s got you. He’s controlling you. He’s manipulating your emotions; controlling your behavior. By withholding his anger he’s making you believe that you are in control of his anger and that if he ever does become aggressive towards you, it will have been your fault.

And one day he does lose his temper at you. You knew it would come eventually. You’ve seen how he gets with other people, just flies off the handle at any little thing that pisses him off, and you knew you couldn’t stay on his good side forever. You knew you’d fuck up at some point. But it was only a little fuck-up. And that’s just how he is. You can use this as a learning experience. Keep on his good side. Keep him mellow.

You’re the one who calms him down. He only gets angry at you sometimes, and it’s not like it’s for major things. It’s only for things that are inconsequential, so it doesn’t really matter. I mean, obviously you fucked up here, and he’s got every right to be angry. Anyone would be angry.

And, look, sometimes he gets angry and aggressive towards you for things that were not your fault, but that’s just how he is. You know him: anger is how he deals with things. He gets frustrated and aggression is just the way his frustration erupts out of him. All of this was out of your control, you didn’t do anything wrong here; he’s just upset. Anyone would be upset; you can’t hold that against him because anyone would be upset, so of course he’s angry. Of course he is angry.

And, look, you’re a team, right? You love him and he loves you. You trust him because he doesn’t get angry at you except when he does. You absorb his anger, that’s what you do. And he trusts you to. You calm him; you mellow him. And he trusts you enough to let himself show his anger to you. He trusts you to stay when he is angry because you calm him. Anyone else he is aggressive to runs away, but not you. He trusts you not to. His anger towards you is different from his anger towards other people. To you his anger is an expression of love. His aggression is an expression of trust.

You know that anger is his default emotion. This is the way he expresses himself. He needs a release. It’s good that he allows his emotions to show. It’s not really aggression as such; he’s just sharing his emotions with you. You have this emotional connection: trust going both ways. It’s despair and he needs to get it out, and you’re the one who makes things better. You have to be there for him.

You have to be there. He needs an outlet for his emotions. His anger and aggression is just an outlet for his emotions. And really, if you think about it, it’s better that his anger and aggression is directed at you instead of being directed at other people. Like, at least you know how to handle him. Other people don’t know how to handle him when he’s angry, but you do. You calm him when he is angry, so although he gets angry quite a lot, it’s never at other people. His anger is only directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is only directed at you.

 

Witches, evil faries, and wicked queens

The worst fairy story is Cinderella because there is no witch or demon or anything; the baddies are just ordinary humans being intolerable cunts, and that is *not* the basis for a Force of Evil in a fairy tale. What I’m looking for in a fairy tale antagonist is some magical being who is smart — and maybe *too* smart. The absolute best fairy story villains go about their cruel schemes because of petty grudges rather than an attempt at amassing wealth or status.

Cinderella fails on all counts. The villain is a wicked stepmother, but she has no magic powers; she just has political power. She and her daughters treat Cinderella cruelly, but it’s simply because they are horrible people.

The best fairy tale (and not just for, but mainly for its villain) is Sleeping Beauty. In all its incarnations the evil fairy is spectacular, but I think Disney’s Maleficent is particularly good. This is the story of an evil fairy who cooks up an elaborate plan to kill a child out of pure spite. The sole motivation for her murderous plot is her not being invited to a party, and she spends nearly two decades dwelling on this petty grudge, allowing it to consume her. She’s magic; she’s evil; and, although she could have done the job with a single shot when she gatecrashed the party, she implements the most outrageously elaborate scheme to put a family through sixteen years of anguish before striking the fatal blow. Her demise is entirely because of this over-the-top scheme: it all gets too big for her. She is a victim of her own genius.

Hansel and Gretel is alright, but just alright. We start with the wicked stepmother who is just a dick because she doesn’t like children, but we move past this quite quickly into the main setting with the witch in the wood. Witches are great; I like witches, but overall this witch is a bit disappointing. Sure, she’s capable of doing magic (gingerbread houses have got to be magic, right?), but apart from that she is a basic bitch witch. Of all the possibilities in the world, she captures children because she wants to eat them — and even more dull, she physically catches them and locks them in a cage, and plans to cook them in an oven. Yawn. And quite the opposite of Sleeping Beauty’s wicked fairy who is a genius, Hansel and Gretel’s witch is a moron who is tricked by a chicken bone.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is quite good, but it spends way too much time on the Dwarfs (like, honestly, who cares?). The Wicked Queen is a solid villain: she uses magic, she’s a child killer, she lives her whole life consumed with outrageous vanity, she holds an utterly pointless grudge. In short, she’s my ideal villain. There are lots of incarnations of this story, with various demises for the Wicked Queen, and mostly they are good: she almost always falls victim to her own clever scheme. The Disney version where she falls off a cliff is rubbish, but other versions have wonderful endings for this baddie: as John points out, the version where the Queen is forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes is wonderful for the ballet, but my favorite ending is the one where every mirror she looks into turns black and she is driven to insanity by never being able to gaze upon her own reflection ever again.

Roses are red

Every single Valentine’s day we have to argue over where to place boundaries when dividing a continuous spectrum into discrete sections, but human language adds boundaries progressively as time advances and violets are blue except in languages that have words for purple.

Roses aren’t red either, but red is such a linguistically ancient concept that it tends not to get divided up as quickly as other color concepts. The points at which red stops being red are much further from the center of red than the points at which blue stops being blue are from the center of blue. But excluding the violets that are white, we can say two things for certain:

  1. Violets are definitely blue.
  2. Violets are definitely not blue.

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No hate mail, please

Followers on Instagram and twitter may have seen I have updated my mailbox, adding a “No anti-marriage equality material” sticker next to the “no junk mail” sticker.

If you want your own that looks like mine, here is the PDF printable format (click the link). Print, laminate (if you like) and stick it on your mailbox.

This is a very small gesture, but I have stuck this on my mailbox for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t want homophobic hate mail in my letter box. I don’t expect this will actually prevent this, but it might. Secondly I am marking my home as queer, or at least queer-friendly. In the past I might have been afraid to do this out of fear of threats to my physical safety and to the security of my home. Now I don’t care; I think it’s more important to be visibly queer, to send messages that we are everywhere, and that we are not going away.

This also, I hope, sends the message that objecting to receiving homophobic hate material is a normal and reasonable thing to do, that this ‘debate’ on marriage rights in Australia does not have to be balanced, and that we have no obligation to ‘hear both sides’.

Stay strong, comrades. xx

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A week of homophobic medical experiences

I’ve had a pretty shitty week, and here is the story. I want to express how I was really feeling at the time, so I’ll mostly copy-paste messages sent to friends and family with as little editing as possible.

I was sick on Monday (an upset stomach) and took the day off work so I had to go to the doctor to get a doctor’s certificate for work. I just went to the doctor round the corner instead of my usual doctor. As part of the consultation she was asked general health questions, and through her questioning it transpired that I’m gay: at this she got very flustered and her immediate response was to to say she wanted to send me for full STI & HIV tests immediately, so I was like WTF I’m just here for a medical certificate and I have a regular testing schedule anyway but she wouldn’t drop it and gave me a referral anyway.

That pissed me off, obviously. But anyway, there’s a pathology lab that I pass on my way home from work, so I figured I may as well just go in to do the urine test and throat swab because it’s free and I might as well.

On arrival I gave the lab tech the referral; she asked me to sit down and she left the room. She came back a few minutes later and said “I’m confused because your doctor has requested a throat swab for gonorrhea, and the swab is normally from the penis in men” so I was like, “OK but I need a throat swab”. She said that she didn’t know how to do it because there are no guidelines for doing a throat swab for gonorrhea in men (like WTF srsly?) and she couldn’t do it. She told me to either come back the next day, or go to a different pathology lab.

So I was furious. And I wrote to their office to complain.

I am writing to complain following a recent visit to your pathology collection centre on 15 August that has left me distressed and angry.

My doctor had ordered a urine test and throat swab for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, tests which I have had many times, and believe are very common. On arrival, I presented the pathology request to the technician, who asked me to take a seat and left the room. Some minutes later she returned and said she was confused because my doctor had requested throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and that there were “no guidelines” for how she should collect those because swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea are usually taken from the penis. I told her I have throat swabs for these tests regularly, but she reiterated that because there were no guidelines she did not know how to collect the required sample. She suggested I either return the following day or go to a different collection centre, and refused to collect the sample.

The impression I got was that either this collection center or this staff member (or both) was completely unprepared to collect a sample for a very common test for men who have sex with men. I personally felt humiliated by what seems to be clear discrimination based on my sex and sexual orientation, and angry that my health care and any treatment that may be necessary was delayed because of this. I am also very concerned more generally that experiences like this one discourage men who have sex with men and who live in this area from testing for STIs, putting the health of the community of which I am a part at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

I would like to receive a response explaining why I had this experience, and what will be done to ensure that this experience will not be repeated, either for me or for other people.

But anyway I did go back the next day because I’m some sort of masochist or something. And it was terrible. I was furious.

I got there, handed over the urine sample that I had been carrying round with me all day and said “I’m here for the throat swab too”. It was the same technician as the previous day. She asked if I had called in the morning, and I said no, I’m here now. She told me that she had said to call in the morning to ask them which sample collection kit to use (!!!!), and I said, well, I couldn’t call in the morning.

She said she still didn’t know what the correct procedure for collecting the sample was (I mean come on, it’s a throat swab FFS) and I got quite angry and asked her why she didn’t know, and if it was really that uncommon. She said again that they only normally do the swab from the penis, and I snapped. I said “you do know oral sex is a thing, right?” and then she asked me to wait and that she would go and ask the doctor.

She came back and again said I should have called in the morning. By this point I was nearly in tears. She then picked up the phone and called (I think) another doctor, and by the sounds of it he didn’t know which sample kit to use either (I was there rolling my eyes because I know it’s the blue one, but she wouldn’t take my word for it), and after a far-too-long discussion they agreed that it was probably best if they used the blue one.

She put came towards me, and then went back and got out a face mask to put on (fair enough I suppose, but it felt like she was making a point, and I have never known anyone put a mask on to take a throat swab), and then jabbed me in the throat a few times with the swab. She printed some labels, pushed them towards me and said “check your details”. I told her they were correct, and she said “you can go now. See your doctor in three days”. And I left.

Fucking hell, I was furious. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so simultaneously angry and humiliated.

This was at a very large medical center in a big suburb. And it’s so concerning because there are a lot of married men on the DL in in that suburb and surrounds having sex with other men (and I know this for obvious reasons), and if it’s this much hassle for me — someone open and upfront about my sexuality & sexual behavior — to get the most basic test for very common STIs, I can’t imagine the local men, who need to test discreetly and quickly, are getting the care they need.

I’m very conscious that this was in an area where there are lots of men who have sex with men in secret. Primarily men of color. Shit like this — that makes testing for common STIs difficult and filled with judgment — discourages testing. Especially in suburbs like this, where culture and open homosexual behavior do not go together, this is a terrible thing. Instead of men being able to test and treat in secret, easily, there’s unnecessary discouragement. And so as well as increased prevalence of these STIs in the local network of MSM their wives are at much greater risk of STIs that they have no conscious reason to test for.

So I’m left angry and upset. Not just because of the effect it has had on my personally, but because homophobic and inadequate systems mean that our community is not getting the care it needs. We deserve a much better standard.

Our Relationship: The Inside Story of Gay Male Couples

Since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, the days of stigma and shame in gay male society have been replaced with those of liberation and tolerance. Emerging is a gay male world free from heteronormativity, self-loathing and internalised homophobia. To find out more about this new world of freedom I met five gay male couples living across the UK to ask about the inside story of their relationships.

Adam and Jeremy, Brighton

Adam and Jeremy have been together for ten years and have been married since they converted their civil partnership to a marriage last year. Living in a small flat in Brighton, most of their free time away from their office jobs is spent watching movies and playing video games.

“We have an active sex life too,” Adam confesses as he sips his fennel tea. “We don’t take drugs or drink alcohol so we can really experience sex to the fullest.” I ask if they have varied roles in the bedroom, or if they have fallen into strict top and bottom roles as many couples do.

“Oh, we don’t do anal!” says Jeremy with clear shock in his voice. “It’s not that we don’t enjoy it,” he clarifies as I lean forward, “it’s just that we’re not those kind of people.”

“Anal sex is fine for people without commitments,” adds Adam. “I tried it three times at uni.”

“Oh yes, you were a real slut,” laughs Jeremy as he picks up another of his homemade fondant fancies. “But I think we’ve both decided just to be more respectable now. We might even want to have children some day so we don’t want to fall into any habits that might affect their impressionable minds.”

“The adoption agency doesn’t view anal sex households too favourably” Adam explains. “So we try to stick to oral with a condom.”

I ask how they keep their sex lives interesting. Adam blushes, but Jeremy seems a little more willing to open up. “It was our anniversary last week,” he says, “and we tried frottage.” I try to press him further, but he tells me quite plainly: “That sort of skin-on-skin fetish isn’t really for us.”

Steve and Pete, Nottingham

I’m chatting to Steve over a protein shake as he waits for his boyfriend Pete – or his “brofriend” as he refers to him – to finish his workout. “I usually finish first,” he tells me “but I do a more intense session. Pete does more reps.” I ask about cardio. “Nah,” Steve responds, “cardio’s for chicks and poofters.”

Steve first met Pete via a popular gay dating app whilst looking for a ‘gym buddy’, though he admits he did not know what Pete looked like until they met in person. “Most of the guys worth meeting don’t show their faces,” he explains. “The ones who do are usually flaming queens and if I was looking to hook up with a chick I wouldn’t be on this app.”

I ask Steve – who doesn’t refer to himself as gay – if people ever think his statements are homophobic. “Nah mate,” he tells me, “it’s just how it is. I’m masc and I’m looking for masc.”

Steve straightens up, pushing out his muscular chest as Pete, a 5′ 11″ block of muscle and veins emerges from the gym. The two men bump fists as Pete approaches and asks “what’s up”, although he’s neither expecting nor receiving a response.

Pete tells me I’m lucky to have the chance to chat to them today – “We usually chill out in the locker room after a workout,” he says. “Yeah, we normally chill,” adds Steve. I enquire about the nature of their chill out sessions; Pete tells me about ‘brojobs’ – how he refers to oral sex. “Steve’s my bro,” he explains. “Most guys want a wife or something, but I’m looking for men who are men.”

“I’m a bottom,” he goes on, “but it’s all about muscle control. I’m masc so I’m not interested in sissy boys. Men should be men.”

“Yeah, cheers bro,” says Steve, with a nod before he downs the rest of his protein shake.

Mark and Richard, York

Mark and Richard from York are currently planning their wedding. They tell me they decided against a civil partnership, choosing to wait until same-sex marriage was legalised before forming their union. “We’re the same as straight people,” Mark tells me, “so why would we choose anything different?”

Richard nods as he turns the pages of the catalogue in front of him. “I have to pick a suit for the wedding, but they’re all pretty much the same” he says. “I reckon I’ll just let Mark decide.”

“What are men like?” Mark chuckles, standing up and clearing away the coffee cups. I ask if he wants any help. “No,” he says, “I’m going to be a housewife so I may as well act like one!”

“I’m the man of the house,” Richard tells me. “I wear the trousers.”

I join Mark in the kitchen and ask about the dynamics of their relationship. “It’s hard being the woman,” he says “but Richard does help around the house. Any time anything needs fixing he sees to it.”

I ask Mark if he really sees himself as a woman. He tells me it’s more of a mindset than a gender. “Every relationship needs a man and a woman. Just because we’re both men doesn’t mean that one of us isn’t the woman.”

Chris and Johnny, London

I meet Chris and Johnny at a vegetarian restaurant in central London. They arrive together; Chris is wearing black skinny jeans, a tee shirt with a slogan, black Converse sneakers and black-rimmed glasses, while Johnny wears a tee shirt with a print of a video game character, dark blue skinny jeans, grey Converse sneakers and brown-rimmed, circular spectacles. “I don’t need glasses to see,” Johnny says. “I just like the look”.

We’re sitting at a table outside, and after ordering starters – Chris and Johnny both order the butternut tart – they each take out their packet of Marlboro Lights and absentmindedly offer the other a cigarette.

“It’s how we met,” laughs Chris, running his fingers through his hair. “We were in a club before the smoking ban; I was out of cigarettes but I saw Johnny and figured he looked like someone who smoked Marlboro Lights.” It turns out that that was the case.

I ask how long they have been together. “Nine years.” Johnny tells me as he brushes his hair to the side with his fingers. “We moved in together five years ago. We had to get rid of so much stuff though because we basically had two of everything.”

We’re interrupted by the sound of Coldplay’s Speed of Sound. Chris and Johnny both take out their rose gold iPhone 6’s – Johnny answers his while Chris just chuckles. “Yeah, we have the same ringtone,” he tells me. “We didn’t even realise at first but I guess our tastes just align!”

While he has his phone out Chris takes the opportunity to show me some photos of himself and Johnny. I notice they have less facial hair in the photos from last year than the neatly groomed stubble they are sporting today. “Yes, we like to change things up a bit,” he explains. “It gets dull if we keep things the same all the time.”

Dan and Justin, Durham

Dan and Justin (not their real names) have lived together in their two-bedroom flat in Durham for just over a year. I’m meeting them at the flat, and after I’ve been waiting several minutes, Dan answers the door. “Oh thank god!” he exclaims.

He takes me through to their living room, shouting “don’t worry about unmaking the beds!” as we walk down the hall.

I’m confused, but Justin joins us after a minute or so and explains. “It’s in case my mum comes round,” he tells me. “She doesn’t know about us, so we make it look like both beds have been slept in.”

I’m shown around their rather large flat, including both bedrooms. They share a bed, but I ask which bedroom they pretend belongs to which of them. “It depends whose mum is round,” Dan says, and they both laugh nervously.

The flat feels strangely un-lived in – there are no signs of personality anywhere. No photos of the occupants, not even art or posters on the walls. I notice separate CD and DVD collections. “We really have to make it look like we’re just flatmates,” Justin says. “We even have separate cupboards in the kitchen.”

I ask if they think their families have any suspicions that they are a couple. “I don’t know” is Justin’s response. Dan says “I hope not. They’d probably be cool with it, but I just don’t want to tell them.”


John Avocado mainly tweets at @SuperCroup, often posts photos on Instagram and occasionally shoves posts on this here blog.