Everybody’s Free to Feel Good: Gay Clubs and Liberation

Listening to club mixes on Gaydio, I was struck by how often the word ‘free’ came up in the music, as a long, held, emphasised word. While some of this is undoubtedly due to the lure of endless granular stretching of the ‘eee’ sound, this is clearly an idea that resonates still within the gay club scene. For example, in Outrage’s 1996 hit, Tall N Handsome a low-pitched voice first says ‘I’m looking for a good man’ and then sings, ‘He’s got to be tall n handsome. and he’s got to be free.’

But what does it mean for the good man to be ‘free’? While an obvious interpretation would be ‘single’, when this song is played in a long set of club mixes, a more clubby interpretation of ‘free’ is suggested.

Although by 1996, gay men in England, where the song was recorded, had more freedom than previously, they still had much less than straight people. The song itself, however, is not a strident call for freedom or action. Freedom is an individual project – the good man must be free as a pre-requisite for the narrator. Again, the precise meaning of this is not specified, but the onus for attaining this freedom is squarely placed on him. Indeed, the vocal tones of the man-seeker suggest a political safeness. The spoken part sounds theatrical and light, as if they were spoken by a dame in a panto. The speaker says ‘Now, I’m looking for a good man, but not just any man. He’s got to be someone special.’ And then, as far as I can tell from the recording, he says, ‘Someone in like Popye.’ The sung part follows.

The version of this song that I heard twice on Gaydio yesterday, mixed by Paul Morell, removes a lot of the comic ambiguity of the original. The original narrator is replaced by Boy George who sounds more typically like someone speaking over a love song, says, ‘Now, I’m looking for a good man, but not just any man. He’s got to be someone special. Someone who can light my fire.’ Of course, it’s possible that the lyrics are actually the same in both versions, but of the two, the newer one is clearly intended in earnest. The update suggests that some took the original song seriously from the 90s.

The repetition of the good man’s requirements, centres the importance of his freedom – a long held word at the end of the chorus. The good man’s individualised freedom, in a 90s context, may refer to a personal authenticity. A free gay man then was free of the closet – at least some of the time in at least some circumstances. This suggests he does not have a woman in his life acting as a ‘beard’ – he’s not married nor in a sham straight relationship. As to his outness more generally, then, as now, people make choices about how gay they feel they can act in various circumstances. I’m reminded of a shop in San Francisco’s Castro District in the 1990s called ‘Does Your Mother Know?’ Like the original song, this uses humour to get at a truth. Many gay people at that time were not out at work and had not told all or sometimes any members of their birth family. The freedom required was likely not this kind of political freedom – instead the good man was somebody who was liberated in certain circumstances.

I remember stickers and chalked slogans (again in California) from the mid 90s which said variations of ‘free your mind and your booty will follow.’ At the time, I took this to mean that free-thinking would lead broader horizons in one’s physical circumstances, but other interpretations are possible. One’s booty is, of course, one’s arse. This can be used to mean one’s whole, grounded physical self (‘get your ass out of here’), or it can refer more specifically to one’s undercarriage (‘shake your booty’). Another interpretation of the slogan is that a free mind will lead to a sexual freeing. It’s likely that the narrator wants somebody who is tall and handsome and who is not overly sexually inhibited.

However, the word ‘free’ is not unique to this song. Someone at a club would hear it several times in several songs over the course of an evening. The type(s) of freedom and paths to freedom may lead towards sexual openness, but that is a destination, not an origin. Indeed, given the distinct lack of personal freedom most gay men experienced most of the time, they could only be free in safe, gay spaces. Freedom thus comes from the club.

This extremely personal sense of release and liberation – a temporary reprieve from a hostile outside, is exhilarating. The club offers a chance to be as gay as one wishes to be, without significant risk. This is in stark contrasts to public outdoor spaces, which were really only safe on Gay Pride Day and sometimes not even then. Freedom in the club and the bedroom gave one enough space to exist and to live. It called for celebration and repetition in song.

However good it felt, though, it contained an inherent contradiction. Someone who was actually free, as this is understood in straight society, would not need to rely on clubs and bars to experience their freedom. Therefore, freedom while it is celebrated is also redefined to fit the circumstances. In 1991, Rozalla released the prototypical anthem to the freedom of the club, Everybody’s Free (to Feel Good). The chorus of the song lingers on a long held ‘free’, resolving with the less prominent but still affirming parenthetical. This is not a freedom of the mind, but a physically embodied sensation of drink, drugs and dance.

The circumstance and ritual of the clubs and bars does not lessen the temporary sensation of freedom, quite the contrary. The transient nature of the experience makes it al the more compelling, as the feeling of camaraderie, community and sexual possibility relies on physical access to the space. For decades, activists complained that most gay people were only interested in this temporary freedom and not doing the work to secure a more enduring political freedom. These spaces, however, provided a launchpad for gay culture, like the charting Tall N Handsome to enter straight spaces and slowly normalise the idea that a man might be looking for a good man who is tall, handsome and free.

Racists do not Speak for Us

White liberalism has problems. First it was Bill Mahler on his Islamophobia rant, now it’s a column in the Independent. They claim to speak for liberal values, which are often broadly reducible to atheism and LGBT people. I want to address this.
For too long, the atheist and LGBT communities have tolerated our self-appointed leaders seeking advantage in Islamophobia. Maybe Richard Dawkins and Peter Tatchell really think there is some threat of Sharia Law being imposed in the UK. However, this seems unlikely. Muslims make up a tiny minority in Europe in general and within the UK. Even if a majority of Muslims were in favour of abandoning a thousand years of common law, (which is already a dubious assertion), they don’t have the political backing or the numbers to make this happen. The idea that this is some kind of threat is absurd. Dawkins and Tatchell are being deliberately disingenuous. These men are (presumably) smart enough to know better.
Meanwhile, Christianity, the majority religion, is often threatening to both atheists and LGBT people. One need look no further to our closest allies, the US, to see a country where Christian parents can bully their trans children to death, like the case of Leelah Alcorn. And where Christianity is such an official part of that ‘secular’ state, that they hold a National Day of Prayer. Indeed, former president George HW Bush gave an interview where he called for atheists to be stripped of their citizenship. American Christian extremists are part of an international network, which does have links in the UK and have done some serious harm abroad. These religious extremists have travelled to Uganda, specifically to persecute LGBT people there.
And nobody spills endless ink on a national stage about the Christian threat. Because Christians are dominant and have power. Which is exactly why they actually are a threat, and also why nobody wants to have to deal with the fallout. Because obviously not all Christians are extremists, only a small minority – something that is also true for other religions, although that fact tends to be conveniently forgotten. When one lives in a dominant Christian milieu, it’s immediately very obvious that there are some positive aspects to the structures created by Christian organisations and that many Christians are peaceful and harmless and privately horrified by the misogynistic and homophobic activities undertaken under the banner of Christianity. Yet, somehow, white liberals are systematically unable to perceive that this kind of ideological diversity might exist in Islam. Why is that?
LGBT people and, to a much lesser extent, atheists in the UK are ‘subaltern’. In many ways still, we do not have direct access to power and are not granted platforms to advocate for ourselves unless we enter into a bargain with the powerful. We can have nice shiny platforms to advocate for ourselves only if we couple that with advocating against other unpopular groups. At least, according to Spikvak in Can the Subaltern Speak. Surely now, though, atheists and LGBT people are much more empowered than we used to be? And Grace Dent, the Independent columnist, does not appear to be part of the LGBT community, so we’re not even getting access to a major media platform, we’re just being used as a stick to beat people with. Our role as subaltern has shifted from being consistently outsider to some sort of militarised symbol of tolerance. ‘Look at how well we treat LGBT people’ says the west (please pay no attention to the discrimination behind the curtain). We’re better than our military enemies because we’re less awful. And thus our militarism becomes pink-washed. We invaded Kuwait many years ago to defend premature infants thrown out of incubators by the Iraq army (one of the most telling and canny lies ever told in the US congress). Now we fight ISIS to save the gays. Militaries that only recently decided to admit LGB people are now supposed to be our saviours.
There are multiple problems with this model, aside from the obvious moral ones. If we turn LGBT people into symbols of western values and western tolerance, then those who we would bomb are incentivised do the same. Putin shows he’s different from the bullying US though the state’s aggressive homophobia. Western militaristic pink washing puts the lives of LGBT people in other countries at risk. LGBT people in the west, as a whole, don’t have a lot to gain from this strategy (although individual self-appointed leaders may find it personally very rewarding), but our community overseas has really a lot to lose.
Furthermore, and very importantly, this narrative erases the entire existence of Muslim LGBT people, especially those who are organising for their own rights. The binary opposition of white liberal vs homophobic Muslim is an invention of the western press, serving the pinkwashed military. This is the ideological heir of Blair’s war in Iraq. The binary opposition of white racist vs LGBT Muslim almost never arises in the media, despite this being a real issue with a real, non-imaginary risk of violence for people in the UK. Hate crimes maim and kill people in the UK. ISIS doesn’t. One of these things is a real risk for people here. The other isn’t. Some fascist groups in East London have specifically appealed to the imaginary dichotomy between LGBT people and Muslims as a basis for their organising. The kind of rhetoric used in today’s Independent is not without consequences.
For too long, white liberals, atheists and LGBT people have only quietly grumbled at the Islamophobia of the more famous members of our ranks. ‘Sure Peter Tatchell might be an idiot about his warnings on Shaira Law in the UK, but look at all the good he’s done,’ we said. However, we cannot let people advocating for our rights throw others under the bus for our supposed benefit. In addition to being immoral, it’s also dangerous for us as a community. One need only look at Tatchell’s recently split with trans people to see how a willingness to sacrifice some unpopular people can easily grow to include ourselves.
We need to take stronger action – to link our remaining struggles for inclusion to the struggles of others. We must complain loudly when Islamophobes are invited to speak on our behalf. We must cease financially supporting organisations, like the Peter Tatchell Foundation, that make Islamophobia part of their platform. We must condemn Islamophobia where it happens and not let our white liberal ‘allies’ use as as tools to further racist agendas. This must stop now.

I’m using Firefox because it’s great in programming and politics

Update: Eich has stepped down.
Yeah, so OkCupid says I should switch to a Google product because it’s better on LGBT rights. Um, have they been paying attention to anything? The new Mozilla CEO gave $1k to overturn marriage quality in California, whereas Google sponsored a national conference of prominent right-wing politicians who want to overturn all LGBT rights everywhere.
You know what, I love having equal marriage rights in California, really I do. And like most LGBT people, I thought prop 8 was terrible. But what I don’t like is ‘pink washing’, where some company makes some lame claim to be a sponsor of LGBT rights, (usually by having a health insurance policy that is vaguely equal or, thse days, by supporting something that a large majority of American agree with anyway (how bold!)) and then we’re supposed to forgive them all their other sins. Even if Google weren’t sponsoring CPAC, they’d still be in bed with the NSA.
We don’t hear much about ‘don’t be evil’ these days, because, alas, Google is making a fuckload of money by being evil. Mozilla never needed a corporate slogan like that because their mission has always been to do good from the very outset. I agree with this queer Mozilla employee who doesn’t want the open internet to get caught up in the American political football match of left vs right wedge issues and distraction. Open internet and NSA spying is more important than a relative small donation to an odious cause, which, by the way, does not mean we should be ‘tolerant’ of some asshole’s concrete political actions to take away rights from a minority which includes some of this own employees. If every other browser was also open source and pro-open standards and on the right side of LGBT rights, then this would be worth switching browsers over, for sure, but that’s not what’s going on here. The CEO says he won’t resign, which is a poor choice, but, again, really not worth a boycott. Especially when the other choices are closed source or blatantly on the side of evil.
So keep Firefox, and install Lightbeam if you want to see just how bloody much Google is spying on your every move. And if you’re an ally or whatever like OKCupid, how about doing a tiny bit of research and not telling LGBT people what to think or do? LGBT people and Mozilla employees can all speak for themselves/ourselves. Because, hey, we’ve got the internet, which is still open, thanks largely to the efforts of Mozilla.
Disclaimers of various sorts: I used to work for Netscape and I got the first same sex divorce in the state of California.

So you changed your facebook icon?

The US Supreme Court just heard arguments for two cases involving marriage equality. Up to 57% of Americans now think marriage equality is a good idea and a bunch of people, mostly straight allies, have changed their facebook icons into red equals signs to show this.

The equals sign is the logo of HRC, a gay (and not bi and really not trans) advocacy organisation. They’re run by and for A-gays and give awards to vulture capital firms for not discriminating against gay people while giving bonuses or while making people homeless, jobless and hungry. Not that they’re legally required to avoid this discrimination. In 34 states, it’s still legal to fire people for being gay or to throw them out of their homes. There is no federal hate crimes law. Gay people are not in the Civil Rights Act or the pathetically weak ‘ENDA’ which the HRC has been failing to get through congress for my entire adult life. That bill would prevent discrimination in employment only and only for gay people, as the HRC has specifically lobbied to prevent trans inclusion. Because trans people are icky and they’re sure it’s much more likely to pass if it excludes us. Really. any day now it will pass. … Not that they’re spending much capital on it, political or monetary. A-gays aren’t worried about getting fired.

The HRC wants you to know that gay people are just like you: rich, white and privileged. And normative. Why shouldn’t two men be able to have a wedding reception at their country club? So the legal talent and the money for the marriage cases are coming from freshly outed Republicans. Other funding is coming from straight people who saw Brokeback Mountain and cried. No, really. The single biggest block of people who have been pushing for marriage equality is straight women who liked Brokeback Mountain.

And so marriage equality has become a social barometer. Just like voting for Obama proves you’re not a racist, backing gay marriage and changing your facebook icon means you’re not homophobic. Because gay people are just like you! So if you feel uncomfortable around queeny men or especially around butch lesbians or around people you read as trans, no need to worry about being homophobic if you support gay marriage. No need to worry about having appropriate sex-ed for LGBT kids. No need to worry about the homeless LGBT youth who might want to build a shelter in your neighbourhood and drive down property values. It’s totally ok to think Grindr is icky and condemn it entirely with no first hand knowledge, because you support gay marriage!

And yes, it’s gay marriage. After all, the HRC just told trans people just this last week, to take down their flag, since “gay marriage isn’t a trans issue.”

Did I mention I got the first same sex divorce in the State of California? I can’t say I’m especially proud of this fact. I will say that having a legal structure for divorce made the split a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. I might get married again some day. Aside from everything else, it has implications with immigration law. And if I don’t have to appear in court and change my birth certificate, so much the better. So yes, I support marriage equality, which is also a transgender issue. And so is the staggeringly high rate of unemployment and under-empolyment among trans people in San Francisco, which is probably one of the most trans-friendly cities in the US.

I’m glad that allies are supporting this largely symbolic drive towards equality. But now let’s talk about why lgbt people, tend to be poor. Let’s talk about suicide rates. Let’s talk about bullying. Let’s talk about something that’s not just for the happily ever after, not just for the lucky. This alone doesn’t make everything all right and it doesn’t make you all right either. I know most of the people copying the symbol of a tarns-hostile organisation don’t even know the source of the icon. And that’s why this really is just not enough.

Anti-LGBT Scapegoating: Why the 99% Should Care

St Petersberg, Russia is on the verge of becoming the third local legislature in Russia to criminalise “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism, to minors.” (Gray, Wikipedia) Activists, such as Polina Savchenko, General manager of LGBT organization Coming Out, point out that “Organizers of public events cannot restrict access of minors to any open area; people under 18 can be there just by chance. Consequently, it makes any public campaigns aimed at reducing xenophobia and hate crime prevention impossible.” (Gray)
Why are they doing this? Andre Banks of AllOut.org says, “the beleaguered LGBT community in Russia . . . are being used as a political punching bag in the run up to elections.” (ibid) The ruling party, “United Russia faces a crisis of popularity . . .. A Levada Centre poll released on Tuesday showed that 51% of respondents planned to vote for United Russia – down from 60% just one week before.” (Elder) So they try to boost their ratings by attacking LGBT people.
This is when they are not stealing elections outright. When describing their 2007 victory, “the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that ‘measured by our standards, it was neither a free, fair nor democratic election.’” (The Economist) That election featured “the entire machinery of the authoritarian state—including courts, prosecutors, media and security agencies.” (ibid) This meant that “large lorries with military and riot police surrounded Moscow’s main squares.” (ibid)
An authoritarian state which uses police powers to maintain control is not on the side of the 99%. Using vulnerable minorities as scapegoats to maintain power is also undemocratic. By linking LGBT people with paedophilia, the ruling party is effectively inciting violence against LGBT people. State violence is not on the side of the 99%, whether it’s carried out directly by a cop holding a canister of pepper spray, or by a vigilante, egged on to violence by agents of the 1% trying to hang on to power.
The 99% includes LGBT people. If we are standing together in solidarity with the 99% of OWS and the 99% of Tahir, we should also stand with the 99% of Russia. Already, the international outcry against this unjust law is causing St Petersberg’s legislators to pause. The Pink Paper reports that, “St Petersburg lawmakers are reportedly reconsidering the provisions of a ‘gay propaganda’ law.” (Gray) Now is the time to act, as, “according to Federation Council of Russia speaker Valentina Matviyenko such ban on ‘propaganda of homosexualism’ might also be adopted on federal level.” (Wikipedia) We can stop this now before it gets worse.
Occupy homophobia! We are the 99%

How to Help

Sign the Petition
If you are near London, come to the protest.


Elder, Miriam. “Putin’s United Russia party criticised for suggestive election advert.” The Guardian. 9 November 2011. Web. Assessed 23 November 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/09/putin-united-russia-party-advert>

Gray, Stephen. “Outcry prompts St Petersburg legislature to reconsider ‘gay propaganda’ law.” The Pink Paper. 23 November 2011. Web. Assessed 24 November 2011. <http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2011/11/23/outcry-prompts-st-petersburg-legislature-to-reconsider-gay-propaganda-law/>

“LGBT Rights in Russia.” Wikipedia. Web. Assessed 24 November 2011. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Russia>

“The secret policeman’s election.” The Economist. 6 December 2011. Web. Assessed 24 November 2011. <http://www.economist.com/node/10268185>

Writing my Legislators

Dear Honourable Hancock and Skinner,

I’m writing about anti-LGBT bullying in California schools. It was with great distress that I read about the suicide of Seth Walsh in Tehachapi. As you probably know, he was a victim of daily bullying at school by homophobic classmates.

Suicides rates of LGBT youth in California are unacceptably high and bullying is often a factor in these deaths. I hope that the State of California will take action to ensure that schools take bullying seriously and take steps to stop it. I hope also that schools will give the message to LGBT students and their peers that LGBT people are valuable members of society.

LGBT kids need to be safe in small towns as much as they are in big cities. It is not good enough to have a few safe areas, like the Bay Area. Kids in small towns are more isolated and need as much or more protection from harassment and bullying.

Thank you for your time.

Charles Hutchins

I think national action should be taken on this, but also local and state. You can find out who your CA state legislators are at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/yourleg.html. When you write, include your home address, so they know you live in their district.


Why is the International Day Against HOmophobia and transphobia abbreviated to IDAHO and not IDAHOT? The whole “hahaha the T is silent” thing is supposed to be a joke. If they’re serious about the leading ‘I’, then it’s surely not important that it shares a name with a state that few people have heard of outside of the US.

The big action in my town was a kiss-in. I planned to go, but then I didn’t. I mean, if I go and kiss a woman, then I’m a straight guy kissing a girl, which is just such a massive show of privilege. If I go and kiss a boy, it reminds of me of being in high school and wishing I were a straight girl and the uncomfortable kisses that resulted from that. meh. I don’t want to pretent to be a cis gay guy.

This might be unfair. Maybe it wasn’t like that. I can’t say for sure, as I didn’t go. But still, I don’t think a kiss-in makes a lot of sense in the context of fighting transphobia.

I like cis LGB people (some of my best friends are . . .) but I’m increasingly against hitching my wagon to their quest for rights. Like, absolutely, they should have full civil rights, and trans people should stand in solidarity with that. Heck, a lot of trans people are LGBQ. But when all trans people stand as a subgroup of LGB people, we’re totally invisible.

On the other hand, if we just had an IDAT, how many cis LGB people would even notice or mention it? It’s not like many of them go to TDOR, although most trans people I know go to the vigils that result when a cis gay man is killed – vigils which also say they’re against transphobic violence, but then only have cis speakers.

I don’t want to be a hater about this. Homophobia is bad and I’m against it. Transphobia is also bad, but if you don’t really want to talk about it, then just don’t mention it at all. Most twitterers have completely neglected the silent, invisible T. So, if transphobia is totally beside the point, then don’t bother bringing it up in the first place. I’m tired of being disappointed and invisible.