Oral Histories

Testimonies: X-Men

The idea of the X-Men has strong parallels for anyone in a minority. Here are two testimonies by gay men who grew up reading the X-Men that give a taste of how fictional mutants have influenced real gay lives.

X-Men-HavokX-Men-Mystique

Havok / Mystique  (Click images to enlarge)

In the article Queer X: The Queer History of X-Men, Alex Jeffery considered how the X-Men series can be read as a powerful allegory about the struggles faced by minorities.

To accompany that piece, here are two testimonies by gay men who grew up reading the X-Men comics. Their very personal identifications with characters, one male and one very gender-fluid, give just a taste of the breadth of resonances that the mutants of X-Men have had in real gay lives.

Havok, by Gwared Sheridan

“I don’t see myself as born into a mutant cult or religion. Having an x-gene doesn’t bond me to anyone. It doesn’t define me. In fact, I see the very word ‘mutant’ as divisive, old thinking that serves to further separate us from our fellow man. We are all humans, of one tribe. We are defined by our choices, not the makeup of our genes. So, please, don’t call us mutants. The ‘M’ word represents everything I hate… Call me Alex.”

X-Men-HavokAlex Summers, hero name Havok, grew up in the shadow of his brother Scott aka Cyclops, leader of the X-Men. Scott’s public identity and pride in homo-superior, and it’s communal existence, left Alex feeling distant from his ‘people’, so much so that he eventually left for outer space. When I came out, my concern wasn’t that people would vilify me or treat me as sub-standard; it was that I wouldn’t be able to be the gay man people expected me to be. The only gay world I knew was filled with pop music, neon lights, doubles with mixers, party drugs, fashion and judgement. None of this was something I could identify with but still I felt the pressure to identify or forever be on the outside. The expectations mostly came from the community itself. They wanted me to share the same social representation and views and inhabit the same stomping grounds – integration by segregation. I didn’t want this and I still don’t. I have always struggled with the idea of expected communal inclusion because of what I consider to be genetic circumstance but it took me many years to realise that I could be the gay man I wanted to be. I can identify with how Havok views himself in relation to the mutant community, how he believes that the good and bad, the strong and weak both share this gene, the common ground not being the gene, but the variety of ‘humanity’ within. These ideologies made Alex embrace the nature of everyone coming together, not just mutants. If there is one lesson to take from the mutant legacy in Marvel comics, it is this. I am a person who is gay, not a gay person. Much like Havok’s belief that we are better together than apart, I think if we blur the lines between communities then identifying someone for who they are, rather than what they are, will be the norm because that’s how we all should be received, for who, and not what, we are.

Mystique, by Mark Goldby

“Kid, my clothes are just an extension of my body. I’m always naked.”

X-Men-MystiqueThe mutant Mystique changes shape at will; she/he alters her (his?) outward appearance to meet the needs of any given situation, be it amongst friend or foe. At the heart of this constantly shifting paradigm lives a guerrilla identity. This identity is indefinable by all the usual social cues it devours and mimics the ones that surround it, existing within norms and social expectations while suppressing the true self.

This covert persona is greatly reminiscent of the notional closet which many LGBTQ members will occupy at some point in their lives; certainly it is true of my own experience; to present one social construct whilst living by another, to occupy the rhino-thick skin of a throwaway persona and deny the vulnerable true self a full discovery: or indeed, to be truly discovered by another. And whilst we live in detachment from our own skin, we will always fear the monster that lives at the heart of our artifice; blue of skin and yellow of eye. To truly find happiness within ourselves, we must endeavour to embrace our monster and learn to revere our own mystique, the things that set us apart from the easily imitated crowd, make us interesting and exciting in our own right.

 

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I Want to be a Porn Star!

What is it about the lure of exhibitionism? ‘Jack’ considers the temptation of wanting to be in a porn film … but not yet making the leap.

Boogie-Nights

Boogie Nights  (Click images to enlarge)

If I had a fiver for each time I’ve been told I should do porn, I’d be able to pay my rent for a month. Considering that I live in London, that’s quite a number of people. Some of them have even suggested it after we’ve met up, and not simply as part of the chat-up routine. And to be fair, that’s over a fifteen year period of sexual activity, so it’s hardly as if every other man on the street is turning round and shouting, “Oi hot stuff! You could give Colby or Woody a run for his money!

I’ve even had a couple offers, although I suspect neither was serious. Being offered the title role in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Boner is the most memorable conversation opener I received as an Uni student on Gaydar. I think the guy who suggested it was kidding. To this day I wonder whether I should’ve gone along with it and seen where it went. Anyway, the Harry Potter broomstick has long since flown (what is the latest parody porn bandwagon now? The Hung Games? Twinklight? 69 Shags of Gay?) and I’m probably designed more for a different market now. Or no market at all – if the resounding silence from certain publishers, after I’ve sent in casual enquiries in response to their appeals for new models, is anything to go by. But that doesn’t seem to stop the regular comments I get about wanting to see me doing porn. I’ve even occasionally been offered cash for sex. Because apparently I look like I should charge for it. Not that I’ve taken the bait. Yet.

Truth is, I don’t even care for most porn all that much. I’m certainly not anti-porn, I just kind of have a low attention span while watching it. I suspect that’s not unusual in people who really enjoy sex for its own sake – they’d rather be doing than watching. There’s an element of wishing I was part of the action. That, and after a while, it’s just “Oh, look, they’re having sex. They’re STILL having sex. Hmm. Does he look bored? Yes Jamie, that IS a big one. Oh, I think I once shagged on some sheets like that.”

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Men at Play

It’s really quite difficult to find good porn to watch. By that I mean the kind I want to make, and be part of. I suspect I’m not unique in liking to be amused while I’m turned on. And certainly stimulated — and not just in that way. Much as I appreciate a Men at Play suited session, or games of doctor, or tutors and lecturers being seduced by knowing mature students, the sexiest element is the suggested intelligence. Because brainy is sexy, and not the kind of brainy that some studios think is instantly achieved by popping geek specs on a rather vapid twink. Although such porn can be great for a laugh. And indeed, laughter is instantly attractive. Hot men actually having fun, and laughing about it, and just getting down to the nitty gritty. If they’re enjoying themselves, then I am too. And that’s the kind of porn I wouldn’t mind doing. I’m not adverse to a bit of rough seduction as long as no one’s actually being forced, and everyone’s having a wonderful time pretty quickly. At the end of the day that’s what a healthy fantasy should be about.

Is wanting to be in porn a fantasy too? It’s certainly something I want to do at some stage, just so I can say I did it. The realist in me points out, however, that if I did, there would be no going back. The realist also points out that it’s not like I’ve already been put about out there. My pictures often get pinched from dudesnude.com, and to this day regularly pop up on Tumblr blogs. I could tell you all sorts of things about the most popular pinched pictures: how the chair I’m sitting in came from a convent school’s staff room; that I was sitting in a bay window with the curtain drawn behind me, on a glorious sunny Saturday morning in September; that I’d been single for just over a month, and it was the first time following the breakup that I’d felt confident enough to put myself back out there.

There seems to be a fashionable school of thought at the moment where one must hoot derisively at the idea that taking nude pictures is “empowering,” that it’s actually demeaning and degrading, that you’re bringing yourself and those you represent into disrepute. Self-justified slut-shaming, in other words. How vile to be criticised for being a sexual being (Your Body Your Rules) and in the same breath, how even more unspeakably disgusting to openly present your fully-grown self as a sexual being! Porn? Beyond horrifying. Apparently doing things consensually is more revolting and disgusting than being in relationships where you’re emotionally blackmailed into uncomfortable sexual activity simply to validate your partner’s ideas of what proper relationships are about.

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Colby Keller, Bravo Delta, Woody Fox & Conner Habib

Porn should be open and fun and clearly fantasy material. Because when I’ve posed for pictures, and done amateur videos, it has felt empowering. I love hearing from other people how much they enjoy what I do. Because it’s nice to acknowledge them, even if it is simply a quick thank you. Because many porn actors like Colby Keller, Bravo Delta, Woody Fox, and Conner Habib, to name a few, are approachable, with Tumblr and Twitter presences, and in many ways come across as guys like you and me. It’s knowing, even as you watch them fucking, that Bravo and Conner are both extremely intelligent, strongly opinionated guys. It’s being aware that Woody is not only stunning, but strong minded and doesn’t do drugs. It’s that Colby knows – massive schlong aside – he’s not your average porn star, and has a fantastic sense of humour about it.

I certainly enjoy watching them in action because I feel I’ve gotten to know them a bit. They’re not sex dolls performing on demand, but give the impression of being real guys sharing the fun they’re having. Yes, it’s professional, but it’s fully informed and aware. These are real people, with moods and whims and quirks, and sex drives. Watching them in action feels like a shared pleasure, rather than watching unreal people doing naughties. You don’t just want to hump them but actually hang out with them too. That’s the kind of porn I really enjoy.

I’d say I’m an average guy. I certainly don’t have a perfectly sculpted body with muscles you could ping popcorn off. I’m not a Hot Bear, and I’m well past being a twink. But for some reason, my averageness is beyond sexy to the people who contact me. I’m fully aware that I don’t fit easily under any of those neat Pigeonholes of Sexy, and maybe that’s why I don’t get responses from the magazines. Even the ones who announce they’re all about inclusivity and that it doesn’t matter if you’re not conventionally attractive. It’s certainly a fact that within a few days of popping my new pictures up on dudesnude, my inbox exploded. I received over 400 new messages as opposed to the usual half-dozen. Something about those pictures seemed to grab attention. I still don’t quite get it, but who am I to argue with 400 men from all over the world who wanted me to know they really liked my pictures?

Nearly a year later, I’m still appearing on Tumblr. I particularly appreciated being rechristened Cousin Barry (at least it wasn’t Percy) on one dad-and-son fantasy blog. I even have my Porn Name lined up, but as to what it is, that’d be telling.

Yes, I want to be in porn. I would like to give it a go, but not necessarily make it a career path. I am long past being awkward about my body nor am I terrified of my own sexuality. I enjoy making others happy. But at the same time it saddens me that some people I know will react with horror and disgust. I know that if I actually did it, then I run the risk of being recognised and outed. Not that I don’t already, with the leaked pictures. But I don’t “work with the vulnerable”. At the end of the day, if a consenting adult does his job well, does it really matter what else he does outside it as long as he’s responsible about it, and nobody’s being hurt? I’ve certainly never been a blue-eyed Skyler Sweetcheeks thinking that getting into porn will guarantee nonstop glamour, a jet set lifestyle, and endless bonking with hot guys. But hey … I’m up for giving it a go, simply because I want to.

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Hard At Work: The Sound of Porn

How do you get the right soundtrack to a porn film? Marcus Reeves writes about how he scored an Ashley Ryder film, and also found a new direction for his own music.

Marcus-Reeves

  (Click images to enlarge)

The life of a writer is a precarious one, the life of a performer equally so. As I do both, it’s sometimes twice as unprofitable and unpredictable, but there are many other jobs that add on even more areas of uncertainty, as I found out earlier when I wrote the music for, and doubled as a runner on, an adult film.

I’d been having a difficult time with no work and was heading into a slump. My friend Ashley came to the rescue, saying he could get me out of the house and give me something to take my mind off things. We first met working on the Royal Vauxhall Tavern panto Screwged, a rather hastily cobbled-together portmanteau show I wrote that I then narrated dressed as a Christmas tree. Ashley played the Portuguese houseboy looking for his long lost mother in a plot-line shamelessly lifted from the Divine film Lust in the Dust and at our ‘late night special’ show, he decorated the RVT with several metres of red ribbon which he uncoiled – there’s no real way of dressing this up – from his arse. Several friends still tell me to this day that it wasn’t quite what they’d expected to see at a panto. Since his days as a porn performer, Ashley has moved behind the camera and has now directed over a dozen features. Having originally studied fashion, Ashley has a strong and vivid imagination and is always trying to add something new to what he does – porn has many ‘rules’ and being rather good at expanding limits, Ashley always enjoys adding new elements to his films.

Ashley-RyderScrewged

That week he was shooting a film and suggested I come along to act as a runner – he also wanted to ask me to do something else but it was under wraps. I’m well aware that I don’t have the body for porn (unless it was bear porn, which I’d never do!), so knew I wasn’t going to be onscreen but wondered what his mysterious request would be – but before that it was time to get my hands dirty on set.

The shoot was over a week, with certain scenes shot at Ashley’s flat, which doubled as the main character’s house. The film had the working title of Leather Whore – which I’m sure can help you work out what sort of things were going down (so to speak). Each day we’d set up the space – clearing any clutter away (porn sets are usually devoid of the bric a brac we amass in our daily lives, one of the many things that make it completely unrealistic).

Before shooting the main action, the actors do stills shots, so basically have to do every scene twice, which I soon realised is less fun than it sounds – in fact, although the atmosphere was light and the guys all seemed to enjoy the work, it didn’t seem like being a porn performer would be much fun. Shooting any film involves hours of hanging around and as most men know, getting and maintaining an erection on demand isn’t always as easy as people think. Add hot lights, having to repeat most scenes four or five times (meaning you are having sex with a stranger for about six hours a day) and it’s not the cushy job you might imagine. Sure, it pays more than working in Starbucks, but as super-producer Chi Chi LaRue pointed out in a recent interview with my hero RuPaul, the digital age has meant that the wages of adult performers are about a tenth of what they were in twenty years ago.

Working as a runner involved making a lot of tea, running to the shop for cigarettes and food for the crew (except the actors didn’t really eat much, of course), mopping up lube and clearing up condoms, a bit of hair and makeup (predictably the wardrobe was minimal and mainly involved cuffs, shorts, bandanas and lots of strange leather things I’d never seen before). There is also social media – photographing scenes to put on Twitter. I was chastised on the first day for not getting enough cock into the feed, so got a bit more ballsy and a bit less arty on the following days. The producers liked what I’d done so much that several of the images are now being used to promote the film – and another studio was interested in bringing me in to work for them. I never knew I had it in me!

Rich-Ashley-Ryder-film

Once the sweaty work was done, Ashley got to his mysterious request – he wanted me to score the film, which excited me greatly. Writing songs has always been a passion, but one that doesn’t come on command (unlike some of my new colleagues). I had a week to write four four-minute pieces of music to accompany the scenes, which was actually a great exercise – it seemed impossible – and although I was tinkering with the music ‘til the eleventh hour, Ashley got what he wanted. Writing the music itself was fairly difficult, as it had to be rhythmic and repetitive without being too distracting – writing catchy melodies is great for pop songs but most people aren’t watching porn to be left with a song to hum along to in the shower. I also discovered that music with heavy breathing might sound sexy as a concept, but in practice sounded more like the audio from a public safety film about asthma. I was really happy with the result. Someone said it sounded like John Grant, the Scissor Sisters and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds – which was pretty much what I was going for.

Sometimes waiting for the muse means we never get anything done and spend the time we do have distracting ourselves from actually making something. The Leather Whore tracks aren’t perfect – four minutes is an odd amount of time structure-wise for ‘songs’, but whether he planned to or not, Ashley literally got me out of the house and out of my slump. I’m now hoping to develop the songs into an album of electronic music, a new direction for me. I may have left the set with sticky fingers, but I also left with something I hadn’t bargained for – inspiration.

Listen to the rest of Marcus’ Eine Kleine Sexxx Musik here.

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Confessions of a Comic Book Geek

Grae Hancock writes about how comic books offered role models, challenges and windows into alternative lives as she came to terms with her sexuality.

Sandman-Game-of-You

Sandman: Game of You, Neil Gaiman  (Click images to enlarge)

I came out as a comic book geek long before I came out as bisexual although the two facets of myself have long existed together. Looking back, I suspect it was an issue of accessibility, that very particular, slow, pre-internet kind of access. Even now as I write this, at a friend’s flat in London I feel more gay because I’m in London. I’m connected to the lives of other gay people; they become the typical rather than the carefully scheduled and poorly attended gay club night of back home. As I became aware of my sexuality I wasn’t able to immerse myself in a gay culture, there just wasn’t much of any kind of scene in the sleepy Home Counties. Oddly enough, there was a comic shop. So through comics I began to experience something of an LGBT community, one that offered me role models, challenges and windows into alternative lives. What follows is a few of the significant comics in my life with, in varying degrees of insight, the lessons they have taught me.

The first one, Chasing Amy by Kevin Smith (1997), is a bit of a cheat because it’s a film, albeit a film about sexuality and comics. Each of the characters is passionately involved with comics, either as creators or consumers and the film is bookended by comic book conventions.

Alyssa, a confident, successful comic writer in her own right is introduced as a lesbian and for me, was the first gay woman I had seen depicted on screen. At last, I was introduced to the possibility that a woman might fancy me back! Although in love with and eventually in a relationship with Alyssa, Holden struggles to reconcile her sexual past and fluidity with his (false) ideal of being the only man she has slept with. Smith taught me a number of things:

  • Bisexuality exists. There are other people who have feelings for both men and women and a name for how I felt. Recently I read Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh (2013) and wondered if having access to a coming-out story, even one as tragic as Clem’s, would have helped me sort my own feelings out sooner. Probably not, after all a queer life is one of continual tiny ‘comings out’ but I’m glad I live in a world where such a book exists.
  • Films frequently present these characters as untrustworthy and dispassionate.
  • Sadly real-life people often have a problem with bisexuality. Specifically, discussing one’s sexual fluidity with one’s current boyfriend, isn’t always met with calm acceptance. Perhaps it is best to keep quiet. This lesson took me more than a decade to even begin to unlearn.

Charm-SchoolCharm-School

In a rather lovely attempt to show that he was ‘ok’ with my new-found sexuality my boyfriend at the time bought me the first volume of Charm School by Elizabeth Watasin (2000). That relationship came to an inevitable end but I still have the copy and will (when funds allow) hoover up the digital re-release. Featuring a faerie, a witch and a vampire (each sexy in their own right) and beautifully drawn with equal parts paranormal drama and lesbian romance. The Charm School series is set in Little Salem where androgynous biker vampire Dean and sexy witch Bunny struggle to keep their relationship together in the face of the charismatic and sexually confident faerie Fairer Than. Here I learnt that:

  • Gay relationships grapple with the same emotions as straight relationships. Looking back, this is a huge duh! but without this I would have assumed, based on Willow and Tara (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that a key feature of any future relationships with women would be magic.
  • Lesbians come in all shapes and sizes. Whilst I was never going to rock the biker chic as well as Dean I was at least reassured that being masculine of centre could be attractive.

Sandman-Game-of-YouSandman-Game-of-YouSandman-Game-of-You

Soon after reading Charm School I found Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (1989-1996) series and most significantly, Desire of the Endless. Spanning the genders and also representing neither, Desire is beautifully rendered and for me, an elegant expression of the presence of attractive qualities across the gender spectrum. Desire is somewhat short-changed in terms of storylines and page time but their existence alone was enough for me. It is also worth dipping into A Game of You for Gaiman’s most queer-Sandman volume. Since then I have always enjoyed a little gender-fluidity in my comics, most recently perfectly expressed in the Adventure Time gender-swap episode and comic spin-off Fionna and Cake (Natasha Allegri 2013). A television cartoon with supporting comic books, the series lifts my heart with its delightfully idiosyncratic BMO and gentle nods toward a past relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. If you haven’t yet made space for Adventure Time in your life, go away and do it now.

Any review of queer comics would be incomplete, heretical even, without a mention of Alison Bechdel. She is perhaps best known for Dykes to Watch Out For (1987-2008) but I came to her backwards, through Are You My Mother? (2012) and then Fun Home (2006).

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In each of her books, Bechdel describes the lives and interactions of characters for whom their sexuality is at times the focus of discussion and at others part of the background. The stories layer narrative in a way that deepens the dialogue between Bechdel and the significant people in her life and the stories are at the same time gently familiar and challenging. Are You My Mother especially reassured me that:

  • Being gay is part of my life but not the whole of it.
  • I am very lucky to have the mother that I do.
  • Anxious, circular internal monologues become cool once rendered into graphic novel form.

Whilst the same themes appear in the comics I read then and now, it would be disingenuous of me to ignore the role of the internet in my comic consumption. For example, Erica Moen’s ohjoysextoy.com is so much more than just reviews of sex toys – though this is also really important! A sex-positive web comic, in ohjoy Moen presents a queer slice of her sex life with her husband Matthew. She not only frankly discusses techniques and toys but also honestly negotiates life with a queer sexual history. Through Moen I found reassurance that sex and play weren’t subject to rigid binary opposition; there is no such thing as gay or straight sex. Finding her work just as I got into my sexual stride in my thirties was a revelation and helped exorcise so many heteronormative sexual ghosts that had taken up residence in my mind without me even realising it. ohjoy updates weekly and as there are often guest artists, is also a great place to get hooked on new comic writers.

Calling-Dr-Laura-Nicole-J-GeorgesCalling-Dr-Laura-Nicole-J-Georges

Most recently I have inhaled Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges. That’s how I consume comics, I scoff them, binge on them. Novels provide my daily sustenance, meagre, functional meals that I eek out over the week. In comparison, comics are treat feasts usually for the weekend and guzzled in a single sitting. Like Bechdel, Georges reassures me that I am living an appropriate gay adult life and one where, as I move through my thirties it is common to be preoccupied with ideas of family and a desire to understand how your family past shapes the woman you have become. Whilst there aren’t (as far as I know) any secrets as big in my family as that of Georges’ father, I can relate to the process of retelling and renegotiating family history as you grow up. For example, between my brother and I, the strong values of equality instilled in us by our parents have become part of our secret dissection of our bisexuality.

Each time I encounter a new comic and add a voice to my community I’m glad that such stories exist in a medium that is becoming more and more accessible. Comics are experiencing a renaissance, and new audiences are being drawn in through film adaptations. It is possible to become a fan of a much-loved series or discover a new indie writer on your own and slowly but surely LGBT voices are making themselves heard and hopefully creating new communities to support those discovering their sexuality.

A Hoosier Transylvanian

The pleasures of Rocky Horror audience participation are many, and Walter Beck has enjoyed them, from being in the audience to playing as part of the screenings’ shadow cast.

Rocky Horror, Walter Beck

(Click images to enlarge)

Dedicated to Transylvanian Lip Treatment

 “…at the late night double feature picture show.”

Released in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show remains one of the iconic works of queer cinema, a raunchy celebration of sexuality, rock ‘n’ roll, and freak power. And even thirty-eight years after its original release, theaters across the country continue to play it to packed houses of eager weirdos reveling in the audience participation, the call-back lines, the shadow casts, and the whole Midnight Spectacle.

Like a lot of my favorite obsessions, I can blame this one on my older brother. He was a regular at the theater in Speedway, although never a cast member. When I was ten years old, he lent me his VHS copy of the film. I was blown away, I had never seen anything like this. It was like watching a twisted version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Soon after watching the tape, I scraped together some money and bought the soundtrack, becoming probably the only fifth grader in Avon who knew how to do the Time Warp.

It was eight years later when I finally lost my Rocky Virginity, at the Hollywood Bar and Filmworks in Indianapolis. My buddy Chuck had found it and had been to a show. He told me it was just what we had envisioned: a wild, bawdy, decadent celebration. So on a hot June evening, I got in the car with Chuck and we headed into the night.

Waletr Beck, Chuck, Rocky Horror

Chuck had the honor of marking me as a virgin, putting that big red “V” on my forehead with his tube of lipstick. Walking into the lobby, it was like seeing the gates of paradise – people walking around in bondage gear, corsets, raunchy black t-shirts, fishnets, spanking each other, laughing, and poking fun at the normal looking people coming out of the last regular movie of the night.

We took our seats, right at the front to catch all the action, and soon they called for all the virgins to come up. It was time for the Virgin Sacrifice. I walked up there with a goofy grin on my face, not quite sure what to expect. That night it was an underwear contest, so I had to drop my trousers and see if I got any applause. Well the crowd wasn’t a big fan of the solid color boxers, so I got a round of light-hearted “boos” and sat back down – although this would establish a fairly regular tradition of me dropping my pants at Rocky shows.

I lit a cigarette (you could smoke at the Hollywood) and enjoyed the show. I was mesmerized. It was indeed everything I thought it would be. The shadow cast was great, the call-back lines were hilarious and of course, it felt great doing the Time Warp with a packed theater of like-minded freaks.

The film ended and Chuck and I went back home, knowing we would both coming to the next one.

The next day, I went back to work for another week of camp at Ransburg. The guys asked me what did over the weekend and I told them all about the insanity of the Midnight show at Hollywood. They asked when the next one was and we started putting together a staff contingent to take to Indianapolis.

Matt “Trank” Trangenstein, Rocky Horror

Breaking a major taboo with the Boy Scouts of America, the Ransburg Contingent arrived on a late June evening. Most of them were virgins, including my boss at the time, Matt “Trank” Trangenstein. It was perfect: my boss was there, several regular staffers were there, even our two international staff members went along for the ride.

The lights went down and the virgins were called up, that night it was “virgins, show us your assets!” So I sat in the front, puffing on a cigar, rolling with laughter as my boss had to bare his ass to a packed theater.

The staff contingent had a blast, heading back to camp smiling like they had had one of the greatest movie experiences of their lives.

Of course, the next day I got a bit of an ass-chewing from management when word got around about what I had pulled off. But fuck it, it was worth it.

Chuck and I were hooked, becoming regular Rocky Sluts at the Hollywood, and usually bring at least a virgin or two along. When I started college in the fall in Vincennes, I arranged my monthly visits home to coincide with Rocky showings – and yes, bringing along my college buddies to lose their virginity at the hands of the Hollywood cast.

In the summer of 2006, I brought along another staff contingent from Ransburg. The stories had spread about the blast everyone had last year and more people wanted the experience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince my boss, Snipes, to come along for the ride, but everyone who came along still had a great time. And yes, most of the staff contingent were virgins.

It was the last time I took a group of staff buddies to a show at the Hollywood Bar and Filmworks.

Later that year, the Hollywood closed, leaving Indy Rocky buffs homeless. It would be a couple years before we had another regular theater.

Ransburg Camp Contingent, Rocky Horror

During the summer of 2007, the guys at Ransburg were clamoring for another Rocky show. I told them we didn’t have a theater to go to. After thinking a bit, Dave, one of the handicraft counselors, finally said, “Why don’t we do it here?” Well, why not? The kids went home Saturday night, we could pull it off. We decided to do it at the Inlow, the big building down by boat docks. It was perfect; it had a big room with a big screen TV that was used mainly for Scoutmaster training.

So on a Saturday night in July, we did it. We got a big group of staffers down there at Midnight and hosted probably the only showing of Rocky Horror to ever happen at Ransburg. We did it to a tee, had people come in costume, had a virgin ritual, call back lines, even a shadow cast. It was probably the ballsiest thing I ever orchestrated as an employee of Ransburg Scout Reservation, but it was beautiful.

When I walked back to my cabin, I noticed my boss Ben Thomas was up and he decided to let me have it, going on and on about how the black skirt I was wearing was “completely against National policy” and blah, blah, blah. I was a bit stunned at his lack of a sense of humor – but that was just him, not a lot of laughter in that guy.

The next theater we had was Georgetown Cinemas on the west side of Indianapolis. It didn’t last long; it wasn’t our kind of crowd. The cast was falling apart, there was too much in-fighting and argument. I stopped going, Rocky had quit being fun.

Rocky Horror, Walter Beck

The resurrection happened in 2010, when the Indianapolis Rocky crowd found its new home at the Irving Theater. I went to one of the first shows there, dressed in nothing but my boxers, suspenders and boots, with my pride flag tied around me cape-style.

It was like Hollywood all over again, the cast was great, the audience was rowdy, and the whole experience was fun. Quickly I became a regular again, connecting with some old friends from the Hollywood days. Of course Jamie “Lord Douche” Clemons was still playing Brad as he had back at the Hollywood, and there were a couple others from those days.

At the Irving is where I became a regular cast member, part of Transylvanian Lip Treatment. It started off with me being the opening act before the pre-show, performing some of my hardcore political poetry. And thus Madison “Sedusa” Martin, the head of the cast, dubbed me “The Fudge-Packing Bard”. I was also filling in bit parts when somebody didn’t show up or they needed a bathroom break.

In August 2012, I took my acting on the road. My boyfriend Nathan and I were headed up north to his old theater in Hobart. He had the role of Frank-N-Furter and I was playing the creation, Rocky Horror. I was a bit nervous since their cast, Help Me Mommy, was more screen-accurate than the Indy cast. But Nate worked me through the steps and we got the requisite pair of gold lamé hot pants.

It took a couple of pints of cider at the bar next to the theater to calm my nerves, but overall I did fine. The only real mishap I was nearly tripping over a cable during a scene where I had to run.

Walter Beck, Criminologist, Rocky HorrorWalter Beck, Jamie 'Lord Douche' Clemons, Rocky Horror

Back in Indianapolis, I became part of the regular performing cast, taking on the role of the Criminologist to the delight of the audience, bringing my own sense of bizarre humor to the character and regularly being groped on stage by the rest of the cast.

This summer has certainly continued the insanity, with me marching the Indianapolis Pride Parade as part of Transylvanian Lip Treatment, getting many hoots, hollers, and flat strange looks from the crowd. And as tends to happen with me, photos were taken that proved to be controversial later on.

Rocky Pride, Walter Beck

And at our most recent show, I was asked to step into the role of Janet Weiss, putting on the skirt and make-up to play everyone’s favorite slut. It was definitely a wild experience and everybody agreed I was the prettiest girl with balls that night.

The last eight years in the Midnight Madness have been a wild ride. It’s been a welcome reprieve from the drudgery of everyday life, a place where I can be as outrageous as I wanna be and fit right in. My old man keeps asking me when I’m gonna outgrow Rocky Horror, but as long as there are high heels and corsets calling at the midnight hour, I’ll be one of the faithful.

“Don’t dream it, be it.”

Touched by the Divine

Andi Fraggs recalls watching his first Divine film, Hairspray, and how it started a lifelong fascination with “the most beautiful woman in the world”.

Andi Fraggs, On Divine

Last week I watched Jeffrey Schwarz’s glorious new biographical movie on Divine, I Am Divine, at the BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, followed by my favourite John Waters’ picture, Female Trouble, which literally had my makeup running as I was crying with laughter. I was also crying during I Am Divine, watching the story of a legend with so much talent and an all too early death. You could not wish for a better biopic of the icon who was (and still is) Divine. Watching I Am Divine got me thinking about my own relationship with Divine through the years.

It all began one day in the early ’90s when, weirdly enough, my Dad came home with a copy of Hairspray from the video store. Although my parents were quite protective, they weren’t too bothered about what I watched and my Dad had a knack of picking out titles that had a great deal of camp darkness – like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Clue and Return To Oz. Little did he realize that this was the start of a lifelong fascination with John Waters, Divine and Ricki Lake, who really saved me with her talk show when I was suffering my own horrendous bullying – which is a story for another day.

Hairspray, Leslie An Powers & Ricki Lake

The character in Hairspray who I could most associate with was Penny Pingleton. My only friend and I would joke that my parents would any day send me to school with a giant ‘P’ on my T-shirt, as they were similar to Penny’s parents at times – especially later in my teens.

As if I didn’t stand out as being strange enough to the other pupils, one early high school day we were given the option to take in a film for the class to watch. I was already Mr Unpopular in every way, listening to The B-52′s while everyone else listened to Take That; dressing in ‘Fred Schneider’ style shirts made of some ungodly synthetic material, chosen by my mother, while everyone else wore ‘trackies’ and ‘Kappa’ – ‘Kappa Slappers’. I rarely communicated with anyone, unless to respond to the constant name calling, but this time I just knew I had to bring in Hairspray and maybe then they would all like me?!

The following week I took in my copy of the movie, which featured a fabulous and bright picture of a post-’Mr Pinky’s store’ Divine and Ricki Lake, with the caption, “The World Was A Mess, But Their Hair Was Perfect”. It was all a recipe for disaster, but I lived in my own bubble and just thought it was “fantabulous”, which of course it was!

Hairspray Movie 1988

As that particular teacher was one of the only liberals in the School, with her dark purple hair, bangles and baggy clothes, she chose my film. “An excellent choice!”, she proclaimed. As the titles began, I grew with excitement and trepidation. Will everyone like it? Will I suddenly become popular?. Will they see this as the coolest film ever, like I do?.

The bright pink titles began with a song I knew all the words to; “Hey girl, what you doin’ over there? Can’t you see?… I’m sprayin’ my hair!”

My dreams were shattered within moments. First, the girls in the class started making comments about Ricki Lake’s “fat arse”, and turned into real life versions of Amber Von Tussle right before my eyes even before she walked onscreen as Tracey’s arch nemesis I was living with these real life Ambers every day. I had an especially cringe-worthy moment when Link, played by the gorgeous Michael St.Gerard, began to orgasmically spray his hair, which caused a wave of disapproval through the class.

Hairspray, Divine & Jerry Stiller

Then came Divine and so it began. Urgh! Is that a bloke? That’s disgusting. You like this? You’re fucked up. What a load of shit. Of course, I’d never even considered Divine a bloke. I was so young and naive that I just thought of Edna Turnblad as a motherly figure. I never even thought about Divine being a man.

As the film continued, the race relations storyline in began and I heard some boys saying, “Well he would like this wouldn’t he? He’s a queer.” These teenage monsters regularly made racist comments, so this was another sickening threat for their eyes. The teacher had to stop the film within half an hour or so and any illusions of my new popularity were duly shattered. I had just become even weirder, which now looking back is great. At the time it was difficult and I just wanted to be liked.

Pink Flamingos, Divine

My next John Waters/Divine film was Pink Flamingos, which I’d managed to get in a seedy second hand shop that didn’t mind selling to underage kids – thank goodness, as many of my favorite titles came from there. Again, from the moment Divine came on screen, this time as “the filthiest person alive”, I felt a huge connection. This was the person I needed in my life! I really would have liked to take Divine to parents’ evening at that point and I did, in my dreams. I discovered Postcards from Divine on CD and promptly gave my parents even more cause for concern with ‘Turn around – stand up like a man and look me in the eyes”, and various other great one-liners blaring out of my bedroom. My mother also had some bright pink sequined outfits in the cupboard from the ’80s and I told her, “You should wear them now! -You would look like Divine”, which I truly meant as a compliment. She had no idea who I was talking about, which is probably a good thing. I would say, “Oh Mother, you’re SO fifties!”

Postcards from Divine

As the years passed, more and more of Divine’s films came into my life and brought me endless happiness. As I began to discover more about Divine’s own personal life and struggles, I could associate with him even more. In my later teens I started to base my relationships on “Do you like John Waters movies?” If the answer was “No” then it was already going nowhere.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet John Waters and I told him how much his “family of characters”, not least Divine, meant to me.

I never found them strange or bizarre, I always just thought that they were similar to me . We were the people society didn’t want to see. John Waters and Divine both gave me a place I felt that I belonged. So what’s left to say, but that I highly recommend I Am Divine to you all. Get on those Cha-Cha heels, watch it immediately and behold the wonder that is Divine! 

How to Live & Die by the Scout Oath & Law

As the Boy Scouts of America leadership prepares to vote on overturning its ban on GBT scouts, Walter Beck recalls how he was banned for the political views he had aired online.

Live and Die by Scout Oath, Walter Beck

“Find what you love and let it kill you.” – Charles Bukowski

It took three months and numerous connections to get the whole story and even now, a year later, I’m not sure if it’s the whole story or not.

It began on what was probably one of the best weekends I’d had in a while in January 2012. A few buddies from my old days at Vincennes University decided to take me up to their place for the weekend to get away from the stress at home. I had recently left school and was starting to sink pretty low, so they thought a weekend of debauchery would put me in a better mood, maybe kick up the wild beast they called “El Presidente”.

I came home Sunday, in an ecstatic mood. It was great connecting with Hawkeye and Penguin Steele again with their roommate/lover Kermit in the mix. We spent the weekend listening to strange music, drinking heavily, watching bad films and regaling Kermit with stories from when we walked tall in Vincennes. And to top it all off, Saturday night, in the middle of this bacchanalia, I got the email I had been waiting for – Az from Writing Knights Press got a hold of me with the great news that my first chapbook Life Through Broken Pens was slated for publication in March.

But as soon as I got home and the guys left, my old man wanted to talk to me.

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

Over the weekend, he had gone to dinner with an old Scouting buddy and his friend told him that the Council was getting ready to blackball me, that I was losing my camp job of nine years and being stricken from the rolls as an active Scouter. Knowing how deeply my old man’s connections ran in our local Council, this guy wanted to give my old man the head’s up before the Council made their move.

But what had I done? Had someone in the Council dug up some nefarious secrets of mine related to extreme decadence and behavior so morally reprehensible that it would bring the hammers of National down upon the powerful Crossroads of America Council?

Well, no, actually. From what my old man told me, it was all related to my continual political ranting online, my tireless dedication to the cause of GLBTQ rights and equality in the United States. No specific post was cited, my old man couldn’t even tell me who had given the order or how far up or down the chain this went. It was basically a tip-off.

Someone was trying to screw me. Immediately, my paranoid instincts kicked in and I tried to think of who would do it. I had been a camp counselor for nine years and had more than a bit of a reputation as a rabble-rouser, an unapologetic freak who took the Scout Oath and Law beyond the rote meanings laid down by National Council. I was also very open about my criticism of the LDS Church and their extensive influence within the Boy Scouts of America. As a gay rights activist, I was very aware of the Mormon Church’s political arms swinging their weight to keep equality from becoming law (most notably in the state of California with Prop 8). As a Boy Scout, I was also very aware of the Mormon Church’s influence, particularly in keeping gay people out of Scouting.

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

But maybe it was beyond politics; with my long hair, earrings and rock ‘n’ roll philosophy, I had made many enemies in my time, old-time diehards who thought that the freaks like me had no place in Scouting.

It may have even been a personal vendetta; several years before this fateful day, I had quit my job in hot blood at one of the biggest camps in the Council. I not only quit, but nearly incited staff rebellion. Not only did I do that, but I had the balls to write about my experiences and paint the management as cruel beasts who, when the chips were down, cared more about money than us counselors out in the field. I barely dodged a defamation lawsuit over that one.

Even though that had been five years ago, I knew there was still a lot of bad blood over it and not all of it on my end. So I thought maybe one of the old bosses there was trying to finally settle the score by axing me all together.

After the ugliness of the summer of 2007, I found employment at another camp within the Council. It was a smaller camp and more accepting to weirdoes and outcasts than the one I had worked at previously had been.

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

The camp, Camp Krietenstein, became my new home. The place felt like a family, where the bosses cared about us and wouldn’t shy away from standing the hard line with us when needed. I began becoming a fixture there; I met my girlfriend there, wrote poetry about the place and was even named Camp Poet Laureate by management in 2010.

Krietenstein became a more important haven to me in the Spring of 2011. After eight years in the closet, crippled with fear over losing my camp job due to National’s exclusion policy and sinking into a personal hell fueled by copious amounts of Everclear grain alcohol and Thunderbird wine, I finally came out as bisexual at the insistence of my buddies who were scared shitless that one night they would come up to my hotel room and find me dead at my desk, an empty bottle next to me, my headphones dangling from my neck and one last half-finished poem on the screen.

So in March of that year Andrew, the program director, called me and asked me what I was doing that summer. I thought since I had come out, I was finished, that was it. But he told me flat out, “Walter, I don’t give a shit was National says, Krietenstein needs you.”

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

Touched by the loyalty that Krietenstein showed me, I went out there to work again as Camp Commissioner. It would be my last summer on staff.

Back to that Sunday afternoon in January 2012, I was fuming with anger, not knowing who stuck the knife in me or what their motivation was. I was offered a choice, I could either knock off my political soapboxing or I could be axed; shut up or leave.

Being a lifelong Scout, I take my Scout Oath and the Scout Law very seriously, these are the moral principles that have guided my life for nearly twenty years and there were two parts that stuck out in my mind, “A Scout is Brave” from the Law and “On my Honor, I will do my best … to help other people at all times” from the Oath. I had to be brave and refuse to be intimidated into silence. I had to uphold my Oath to help others; I was an activist, doing my part to help in the struggle to be free and equal in this country.

I thought about it. I knew if I left my old man would have to be the one to strike my name from our Troop’s roster. I didn’t want to force him to do that.

But you know, sometimes you have to do what is right, so I told my old man I was leaving. He told me that I made the right decision by not being silenced by unseen triggermen with axes to grind.

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

I kept searching for answers, I wanted to know who and why. I started calling my connections to see if anyone had any answers. For weeks I got nothing. The only light in the tunnel I had was a call to an old friend who was a Council bigwig. He said he didn’t know who it was, or what their motivation was, but he did tell me that if I wanted to get another camp job in another council, he would back me up and see to it that I got hired.

It wasn’t a lead, but at least it was a bit of hopeful news.

The break came in March while I was out having a beer with my buddy Jake. Both of us were former Krietenstein counselors and had been roommates in Terre Haute. Jake was now a District Executive, so I thought he might know something.

He told me the letter to axe me had come from National, not from within the Council. Apparently the letter had originated in Pennsylvania; Jake asked me who I knew through Regional and National Events, such as National Camp School or the 2010 National Scout Jamboree.

I started checking online, seeing where my friends from those events had come from; finally I found the only one from Pennsylvania. Guilty or not, I cut off contact with him, along with most of the others, just in case there was another rat in my midst.

I also became more secluded than I had been online, gone were the days of open contact and dialogue, I had to shut out people, at least until this storm blew over.

But just because I found the likely triggerman, didn’t mean the story was over.

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

I was following up on my Council buddy’s advice to keep being a counselor. As it turns out, the former program director and camp director of Krietenstein were back in the saddle in Ohio. Tony, the program director, called me and told me to come out and work there. We had worked closely together when he was at Krietenstein, I had designed and revised many of the high-octane programs he put in place that year that got the camp applause from the local troops.

I was also excited about working for Roger, the camp director, again. Roger can be a hard, stern man, but he was also one of the most loyal bosses I ever had. He had ignored the vicious rumors that had spread about me after 2007 and hired me on at Krietenstein. The man himself had been backstabbed in Scouting a few times in his life and he was willing to give another chance to those who deserved it.

I immediately jumped on the offer, sent in my application, did the interview with Roger and started brainstorming with Tony to bring some of that Krietenstein magic to this camp in Ohio. I had the job in the bag.

Well, almost.

Roger called me with some bad news. He couldn’t offer me a contract. Apparently the Council Executive over there had seen some pictures of me online that had pissed him off, so the deal was off. I was now permanently exiled.

I asked Roger for details, but he didn’t know. I frantically began looking to see just what sort of pictures could have set this guy off. I found nothing; just the usual assortment of photos of me with the guys, usually smiling around my cigarette with that “devil-may-care” grin on my face. There were no explicit photos, no photos of me engaged in illicit drug use, nothing. The worst they could have pinned was me dressed like a freak. But so the hell what? What American college student didn’t get crazy and dress weird once in a while?

I left it at that, Roger was the sort of man you didn’t press; besides if he told me he didn’t know, that means he didn’t know. Roger held liars in extreme contempt and told nothing but the truth. He wouldn’t hide anything from me.

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

Tony also denied knowing anything about these “offensive” pictures.

That was it, it was all over, nine years of wearing the uniform and they cut me down like a mad dog. I spent the summer looking for work and eventually found a gig at a gas station, selling discounted sodas and cheap cigarettes to breathing zombies. During the first few weeks of my clerk job, I got plenty of phone calls and emails from my buddies at Krietenstein and even a few of the Scout leaders, begging me to come back.

The BSA has become extremely polarized regarding the situation of GLBTQ people; my screwing was just one of many to happen around the country, there have been other camp counselors forced out either for being GLBTQ or for publicly expressing their disagreement with the BSA’s membership policy.

Walter Thomas Beck Scout

But maybe it ain’t all bad, as Dylan once wrote, “the times they are a-changing”, and it seems like as more and more of us get stomped and screwed, the more people are speaking out. Soon, the BSA will have to make a decision, keep up as a viable organization and welcome all into Scouting or slam the gates close and keep collecting those checks.

24 Hours of Madness

The Strange Story of What Happened When Sullivan County, IN Ended Up in the National Headlines. As seen by Walter Beck.

Diana Medley, gay prom outrage

It took roughly 24 hours for the story to explode. At around 6:00 on Sunday evening, local Terre Haute news station WTWO reported that parents, students and even some teachers wanted to organize a “traditional” prom, barring LGBT students down in Sullivan County, Indiana.

The story also included a quote from special education teacher Diana Medley, who was asked if she thought gay people had a purpose in life. “No I honestly don’t. Sorry, but I don’t. I don’t understand it. A gay person isn’t going to come up and make some change unless it’s to realize that it was a choice and they’re choosing God.”

By the time Monday evening had rolled around, this story had been plastered all over the place, with The Huffington Post, Think Progress, The New Civil Rights Movement, LGBTQ Nation, GLAAD, The Human Rights Campaign and Dan Savage all getting into the action. There are even currently petitions circulating calling for Diana Medley’s termination or resignation.

It’s been interesting watching this little storm happen. I know that part of the state. I went to school at Indiana State in Terre Haute. My ex-girlfriend was from Sullivan and my grandfather’s family is from that area. I sat watching the monitor starting to burn as the story picked up steam and many of my friends started posting the various articles.

Personally, I was anticipating some street action with this. People’s emotions were cranked up about as high as they could go; the letters they were sending to the teachers were going up online and going out to her; the petitions started reaching thousands of signatures and the Facebook groups were being flooded with new supporters.

I was waiting for that phone call from one of my old buddies down there, telling me, “The demonstration’s tomorrow, Walt, call in the cavalry.” It was roughly a forty-five minute drive; I could speed down Highway 40, signs and flags in tow, and be there with very short notice.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

Once the school got drift of what was going on, they tried to put the clamp on it, doing an interview with another news station, clearing up that everyone was indeed welcome to prom and this whole mess was nothing but a private event attempted by a few local yahoos.

I tried to get a hold of some people down there, see what their take was and they seemed either pissed at the media for blowing this up or wanting the whole thing to die down before it got crazier.

“Looks like the folks heading up the meeting did so without anyone really knowing and media found out and had a great time filling in the blanks and coming up with their own information before knowing the whole story,” Andrew Bowman, a long time camp buddy of mine said.

Neil ‘Schnitz’ Stringfellow was even more blunt. “My opinion, just drop the whole damn thing before this bullshit goes national and attracts the Westboro psychos! They’re allowed to go to prom, that’s long been decided. If they aren’t that’s discrimination and that’s a felony. Anytime something new is introduced into a society it’s always going to be met with hostility first.”

He had a point, it was crazy enough having the reporters nail this story up on every digital wall, bleeding from the extremities; it would be an entirely different thing if those bastards from Topeka, KS got drift of it and decided to pay a visit. Then we would find ourselves in an even worse position, forced to either ignore the Westboro crowd and not feed into their martyr complex or go the opposite way and tango with them toe-to-toe on general principles.

For all the outcry, it was over pretty quickly. No new stories have popped up since and it looks like everybody got what they wanted without breaking too much of a sweat. Students are indeed allowed to go to prom and whatever glory those wanting a “segregated” prom were hoping to gather was crushed under the vicious machine of digital public outcry.

I’ll give Schnitz the last word here – he put it in a tongue-in-cheek way that can only come from those of us speeding down the weird lane in this part of the country. In regards to the church not even being aware of the meetings to organize a “segregated” prom, he said;

“Sullivan gonna Sullivan; breaking into buildings to have an impromptu Klan rally.”

To read more on the story ‘Local Students Want Separate Prom That Bans Gays’, click here.

God Hates Terre Haute

A (Sort Of) Satirical Review of the Westboro Baptist Church’s 2010 I-70 God Smack Tour, as seen by Walter Beck.

God Hates Terre Haute, Westboro Baptist Church

In many ways, it was like a rock ‘n’ roll show; we were up and out before 8 AM, we had coffee, cigarettes and were blasting music on the way. Our friends were excited to see us; and when we got to the gig the crowd seemed excited and happy.

But the difference was that we weren’t going to see Metallica or Iron Maiden, we were there for serious business: the thugs from Westboro Baptist Church made their appearance in the early morning of October 3rd, 2010.

We waited around St. Patrick’s Catholic Church as we got our signs ready, which ranged from the biblical “God is Love” to the political “Equality for All” and even the satirical “This Space for Rent”. Most of the crowd was dressed in street rags, although some of my friends were dressed a bit more strangely – Erik was wearing a pink fuzzy Bunny suit, sort of like in A Christmas Story.

As we waited, the news media showed up and a reporter wanted to talk to some of us. Naturally I let him put his mic in my face as I babbled for a few minutes and got the crowd riled up. He thanked me and then moved down the line.

I spotted the greenish van with a Kansas license plate and we moved to the corner of the sidewalk, and sure enough the Westboro folk made their grand entrance to the fine city of Terre Haute with the heiress herself, Shirley Phelps-Roper, taking center stage. She had four signs in her hands and a couple of inverted flags tied around her waist (the American flag, Rainbow Flag … and I do believe I saw the Vatican flag as well).

Like any good show, they kicked it off with a bang, chanting for a while and obviously digging the crowd. The news folk kept their cameras rolling throughout the whole spectacle and the cops just stood by watching for signs for violence or trouble.

Well, what’s any well-publicized tour without some music? And believe me, the Westboro crowd was happy to oblige as they sang poorly written satires of Ozzy, Queen and Lady Gaga. We in the peace corner felt like singing as well, so we belted out a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, Christian songs and some patriotic numbers in honor of the veterans who were amongst us.

We went back and forth for a bit as the cameras rolled and the peace and love just poured out of us, even though I don’t think Shirley and her crowd were receptive of our gifts. Her crowd packed up the van and sped off for a second performance to take place at Bible Baptist Church. And so we, the peace and love crowd, got in our vans, trucks and cars to follow them there.

The Westboro crowd beat us to it. They had already set up and were chanting and singing. So we countered, beginning our chanting and singing again. It was the same gig as at St. Patrick’s – apparently even on a national tour these folk aren’t too keen on changing their performance.

One brave soul broke from our ranks and placed a flower at the feet of Shirley. I forget his name, but he is a true warrior and peace maker. And what did our favorite hate-mongering star do with this simple offering? She crushed it under her heel and proceeded to try to sing a bad parody of ‘Crazy Train’. Not to be outdone, we, the peace crowd, sang our own a cappella version of ‘Crazy Train’.

During the Bible Baptist rally, I caused the reporter from WTWO to slip up. He was doing his work, and I had a sign with a big smiley face on it that said “Smile If You’re Gay”. When the reporter was trying to tell the story, I yelled, “Hey this sign says ‘Smile if you’re gay’ – it seems like the Westboro people are smiling an awful lot”. He broke up laughing and couldn’t continue.

Shortly after, the Westboro folk packed up their van and left as we peace and love folk sang the chorus of Guns ‘N’ Roses’ ‘Paradise City’. It was a victory for peace and love as the Westboro protesters sped back to I-70 and I know as I write this there will be another town hit on their 2010 “I-70 God Smack Tour”.

All in all, as far as acts goes, this was one of the worst I’ve seen. Their performance was terrible. They didn’t surprise us with an encore. There were no tour shirts available, and like most touring media stars, they wouldn’t stick around for a “meet and greet” with the people who came out to see them.

NOTE: This piece was originally written in Terre Haute, IN in the immediate aftermath of Westboro’s appearance in October 2010. It is now being published in Polari Magazine for the very first time.

Fabeness to Gloria in the highest, and on earth peace, bona will toward homies

Yvonne Aburrow, editor of The Unitarian magazine, recalls a reading of the Bible in Polari and writes about the role of the Unitarians in achieving LGBT equality.

Luke 2, 8-10, Polari Bible

Everyone should have the Bible in their own language, said Erasmus, so that “The farmer might sing snatches of his Scripture at his plough, that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.”

And so it is entirely right and proper that the Bible has been translated into Polari, the erstwhile language of Queer people, currently enjoying something of a revival. It should be heard in churches, too — and it is being embraced by LGBT Unitarians.

The occasion was the second Christmas service of Rainbow Unitarians, a group of Unitarian LGBTQI people, at New Unity Church, Islington, in December 2011. There was a reading from an article about Christian de la Huerta’s ten queer spiritual roles; there were carols and readings for Yule, Hanukkah and Christmas. There was a poem by Ursula Fanthorpe, and a reading of an article by a gay Anglican priest. And there was a reading from the Polari Bible: the Gospel according to Lucille, chapter 2, verses 1 to 18. It was so moving to hear a gay man read from the Bible in Polari. It was as if we had been given our language back.

Christopher Warleigh-Lack, partner of Alex, the founder of Rainbow Unitarians, says: “I had never heard the Christmas story in Polari and it made a huge impact on me – I was amazed that someone had gone to the trouble of translating it, and at the humour of the story when read.”

Even though I am not a Christian, I regard the Bible as a significant part of our culture, and to hear it in Polari gives it a whole new sparkle. And being able to hear it in a church was even better.

The amazing thing about Unitarians is that they include and welcome everyone. The church has been welcoming atheists since the 1920s (and not trying to convert them to theism); Pagans have been part of the movement since the 1980s (and pantheism and process theology were part of the Unitarian perspective even earlier); and Unitarian churches have been welcoming LGBT people since at least the 1970s.

The founder of the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, Dudley Cave, was a Unitarian; and Integroup, one of the earliest support groups for LGBT people, was in a Unitarian church, Golders Green, convened by the minister, Rev Keith Gilley. There have been various resolutions at Unitarian Annual Meetings in support of LGBT rights. In 1977, Unitarians resolved that the ministry of the denomination be open to all — regardless of gender, ‘race’, colour or sexual orientation – and expressed an abhorrence of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1984, they resolved that the age of consent for homosexuals should be the same as that for heterosexuals. In 2000, Unitarians supported the repeal of Clause 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, believing that this clause, prohibiting the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, in practice encouraged homophobia.  In 2008, Unitarians called on the government to introduce legislation permitting ceremonies for civil partnerships to be performed in any place of worship or other premises licensed for the celebration of marriage.

Unitarianism and Free Christianity is a non-creedal religious movement that seeks to unite people in fellowship, in a spirit of freedom, reason and tolerance.  This liberal approach to building a community means that Unitarians value diversity, and recognise that congregational members can learn from one another’s perspectives.  LGBT people are called to contribute their unique talents and views to the wider religious community.

LGBT people have made major contributions to the development of professional Unitarian ministry, and LGBT people hold positions of responsibility within the movement. There is no “pink ceiling”.

Rainbow, a group for LGBTQI Unitarians in London and the South-East, is a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex Unitarians, of various ages and origins. The group is self-organising, and financially supported by the London and South-East District Unitarians. In a way, there is little need for the group to exist, because LGBTQI people are welcome at all Unitarian churches, but it is nice to have some queer space occasionally, to discuss queer spirituality.

Recently, Unitarians have been at the forefront of the campaign for marriage equality. The government’s announcement of equal marriage legislation was welcomed by Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, who said, “Unitarians look forward to the announcement and that this will mean we will be free to conduct same-sex marriages in our places of worship if congregations wish to do so. … We claim the right to do so in line with our own deeply held convictions about the inherent worth of all individuals and for public recognition of relationships. Civil partnerships in religious premises, whilst welcomed by Unitarians, are not a substitute for same sex religious marriage. The introduction of civil partnerships in religious premises has faced difficulties and progress has been slow although several Unitarian congregations have registered to host ceremonies and some have taken place; the first being in Ullet Road Unitarian Church in Liverpool.”

Unitarians, both LGBT and heterosexual, can be seen regularly at Pride marches and events, waving a banner with a chalice on it in support of LGBT rights. There was a brilliant Unitarian turn-out for World Pride in London, and the same in Manchester. Pride marches are probably the only time you’ll see a Unitarian minister wearing a dog collar — just to make the point that there is a religion that enthusiastically supports LGBT rights!