The Camp Vamp: Katrina Fox

Commentary on GLBTIQ issues, social justice and some of life's quirks.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Time to read

I got an email recently informing me that Gay’s the Word is thinking of closing down. Gay’s the Word is Britain’s equivalent to The Bookshop, Darlinghurst: a Mecca of GLBTIQ literature. I felt sad because I remember walking past it seven or eight times before plucking up the courage to go in during my coming-out days – unlike The Bookshop’s subtle signage, Gay’s the Word’s title says it all, and just to make absolutely sure there are no misunderstandings, it proclaims underneath ‘Gay and Lesbian Bookshop’.

Happily I got over myself, went inside and came out with a ‘Femme on the Streets, Butch in the Sheets’ t-shirt (which isn’t strictly true but I liked how it sounded) and the requisite lesbian jewellery. From then on, I spent many an afternoon browsing the shelves here and in Silver Moon Women’s Bookshop, which closed down a few years ago after two decades of providing dykes and feminists with a rich collection of reading material. Silver Moon suffered from soaring rents, while Gay’s the Word says it is “struggling financially”, mainly due to mainstream bookstores stocking GLBTIQ books and their availability from online booksellers.

So, nostalgia aside, do we still need our community bookshops? Some people, including queer celebrity authors Sarah Waters and Edmund White, think so. Waters told The Times newspaper she could “never have produced fiction of my own if Gay’s the Word hadn’t been there first, supplying other gay writers’ work”, while White said the bookshop is a “cultural centre” that must remain open. Jeanette Winterson, on the other hand, told the same newspaper that “Gay’s the Word was a brilliant shop but the very fact that it is thinking of closing may mean that its work is done”.

I can see both sides, but perhaps the question, though, should be, ‘Do we still need books?’ Those literary-lovers among you, who, like me, may enjoy immersing yourself in non-fiction that expands your mind with new ideas, or losing yourself in a novel, will no doubt scream ‘Of course we do!’ But when I hear constantly from young gay men (I’m sure there are lesbians out there too as well as young people in general) the phrase ‘I don’t read’, I wonder if the written word is on its way out. Text messages bastardising spelling and grammar do little to preserve the beauty of language, and reality TV shows like Big Brother have taken the place of the classics on the school curriculum (post-modernism has so much to answer for).

One company in the US, however, has capitalised on society’s obsession with fame and ironically brought it back to the written word. Book By You offers people the chance to star in their own personalised novel – romance, western, pirate, vampire. You co-author the book by supplying the names, features and places and can even have your own photo on the jacket. Of course, the set plots to date are all geared towards straights, which means there’s a gap in the marketplace for a queer version. Maybe they can stock them in Gay’s the Word.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stereotypes

Judi Dench's portrayal of Barbara in the film Notes on a Scandal is sending lesbians everywhere into a tizz. It tells the story of a sexually repressed old spinster dyke (Barbara) who is determined to create a 'special friendship' with Sheba, a young, beautiful and straight co-worker (Cate Blanchett) at the school where they both teach. When Barbara finds out that Sheba is having an affair with one of her students, a 15-year-old boy, she manipulates the situation to her advantage.

While acknowledging the excellent performances by Dench and Blanchett, as well as high production values, most dykes have issues with the fact that, as LOTL reviewer Belinda Hazelton put it: "Once again we have a mainstream film featuring a (very closeted) lesbian character who is psychotic, bitter and friendless." Well, I'm going to go against the pack and say that I loved Notes on a Scandal.

Stereotypes are not all bad. I know I've moaned about growing up with The Killing of Sister George (in which Beryl Reid portrays a sad, ugly old dyke desperate to retain her sado-masochistic relationship with a young, pretty Susannah York but ends up alone), as my only model for lesbianism, but the film is 40 years old. When I watched it in the 1980s, there was still a dearth of lesbian role models, but since then, there's been a plethora of films portraying dykes in a positive light. From attractive high-school cheerleaders to ordinary girls-next-door to lesbian couples doing the baby thing, we have been featured in all our diverse glory in both independent and mainstream films as well as TV shows. This year's Oscars were a veritable showcase of lesbian icons: Ellen Degeneres posed with her girlfriend Portia de Rossi and hosted the ceremony, and Melissa Etheridge thanked her wife when she collected her award. Rosie O'Donnell is a host on a major US talk show and Showtime has commissioned four series to date of dyke soap opera, The L Word. Women-loving-women have never been so popular.

So, is the occasional portrayal of a lesbian as an obsessive old battleaxe who conspires to seduce a young heterosexual woman away from her husband and two young children by whatever means necessary and who writes down her devious ploys and outlandish fantasies in a diary really so bad? I don't think so. Call me twisted if you want, but I like Barbara. I get her. I see elements of myself in her. Anyone who has felt the tumultuous emotions of desire for a straight woman and jealousy of her male partner must surely understand why Barbara sends a wreath to the fiancé of a former teacher she's captivated with – I mean, what else would you do?

Personally I think Barbara should be celebrated and put on a pedestal with the likes of self-improvement guru, Anthony Robbins. Write down your goals, then devise a strategy for reaching them, he preaches … which is exactly what Barbara does. And she loves cats. Notes to lesbians: Go see this film. Watch and learn.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Time to adopt

Adoption is a noble thing. While many people are rushing to bring new life into the world (human or animal), there are countless babies, children, cats and dogs desperate for a loving home. I guess I got lucky. There was no IVF around for infertile couples when I was young, so instead of languishing in a children's home, I was adopted as a baby, after my birth mother decided she couldn't cope with bringing up another child (she already had two) on her own, and abortion was still illegal by one year in the UK.

I was taken in by a working-class couple in a small town just over an hour outside London, who, along with a generous helping of dysfunction, provided me with one absolutely wonderful gift: a portable black and white television for my bedroom. This allowed me to immerse myself in old Hollywood movies on Saturday afternoons (who needs friends anyway?) and late at night. Looking back, I wouldn't have swapped those warm and fuzzy feelings I got pretending Elizabeth Taylor was my real mother for the chance to stay with my birth mother. Plain secretary in the east end of London, or glamorous movie star? No contest.

As I got older, however, I wanted Liz to fuck me. It gives the term 'Mommie Dearest' a whole new meaning, n'est-ce-pas? Now, imagine having sex (as an adult) with your mum or dad. Go on, go to a dark place, just for a second or two. How does it make you feel? Disgusting? Sick? Uncomfortable? It doesn't have to be that way. Get your girlfriend or boyfriend to adopt you, and you can legally get it on with your newly adoptive 'mother' or 'father'.

This is the innovative tactic employed by Olive Watson 15 years ago in pre-civil union USA. Olive adopted her lover, Patricia Spado, to ensure she would be provided for in the event of her death. Under the law in Maine, where the adoption took place, Olive became Patricia's mother, even though she was a year younger than her, effectively making Patricia her father's 19th grandchild and therefore a beneficiary to his estate. However, fickle creatures that lesbians are, the gals split up just a year after the adoption took place, and now the family of Thomas J. Watson - the man who built IBM into an international computer empire - is disputing Patricia's right to any share in his multi-million dollar trust fund.

Well, you've got to admire Olive's creativity. John Howard seems determined not to grant us the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts nor to allow queer couples to adopt children (so far we are thankfully still deemed suitable to raise and care for canine and feline members of society), so perhaps we should start lodging applications to adopt each other. Not only will we be safeguarded from a legal point of view, but think how much fun it will be to have 'mummy' or 'daddy' punish you for misbehaving this time around...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fashion statements

How you dress says a lot about you, and of course can vary from day to day, where you're going and what image you want to project at a particular time and place. A Gucci suit proclaims 'power dyke' or 'rich poof'. Items of clothing with designer labels on the outside screams 'I'm so insecure, I need validation of my identity by a fashion house that only shallow people find trendy and cool'.

Jeans, plain T-shirt and sneakers signifies to the world that you're in the mood for comfort over aesthetic; and 'office wear' makes the statement that you don't want to stick out, that you have made the decision that during working hours you want to blend in and are prepared to wear the 'uniform' for that purpose.

By contrast, if you want attention, then popping on sparkly, skimpy things should send the message 'I'm sexy and gorgeous - look at me!' loud and clear. But there is something that tops any other outfit or material in the attention-grabbing stakes.

Now, just for the record, I don't consider myself a fashion guru in the slightest. I don't follow trends, only my own urges, and I'm more inclined to wipe my arse with Vogue magazine than I am to read it. But, during this Saturday's Mardi Gras parade, I had an epiphany, in which I received the most insightful wisdom and now feel qualified to share a few fashion tips. They are only for those of you who are attention-seekers (part or full time).
If your aim, when you venture out in public, is to have the whole world and their aunt take your picture; run up to you asking if their husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, nan, dog etc. can have their photo taken with you; to stand in a line for the toilet and have it resemble the red carpet at the Oscars, with flash after flash from tourists' cameras going off like a fireworks display; and to gain a glimpse into the life of the A-list celebrity, then I can tell you how to do it.

Forget your sequins, glitter, designer labels, fetish wear and so on, and go out and buy ... plastic fruit and vegetables. Lots of it - at least 100 pieces. Visit your local $2 shop and stock up on as many of these faux food items as you can. Make two harnesses from dog leads, then pierce each item of fruit and thread wire through it (you'll get RSI, but who cares?). Design, arrange and attach fruit to top and bottom harness. Plaster face with big make-up and glitter, slip into stilettos to give your figure a lovely line (yes, boys too), and go out to meet your public. You will not be disappointed.

Final fashion tip and this one is for all straight undercover cops infiltrating gay dance parties: We can spot you a mile off. According to my girlfriend, Tracie, not only do you give yourselves away by wandering around the gaff looking bewildered, you also "have terrible hair".