The Camp Vamp: Katrina Fox

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Loving life

Last week’s Best of Show prize at the BGF Bake Off went to Miss 3-D for his creative interpretation of Paris Hilton in prison: bent over doggie-style on the bed, taking up one of her holes a strap-on sported by a black lesbian. Of course, prison life for the pampered princess isn’t likely to be that exciting. Crap food and a cold cell are about as scintillating as it gets. Despite what the camp TV show, Prisoner, portrays, prison’s no fun for anyone, but 45 days for driving under the influence of alcohol is hardly comparable with five years on death row followed by another 12 years in the general population for a crime you didn’t commit.

This is what Sonia (Sunny) Jacobs endured in Florida, USA. In 1976, 19-year-old Sunny and her husband, Jesse Tafero, were sentenced to death for the murder of two police officers. Sunny spent five years in isolation on death row, before an appeal successfully quashed her death sentence but held up her conviction with a life imprisonment sentence. During the next 12 years, Jesse was killed in the electric chair in a botched execution that sparked national controversy – it took three jolts of electricity to kill him as the headset conducting the current to his body caught fire. Sunny was not allowed to attend the funeral. Also during this time, her parents died in a plane crash on the way home from visiting her and her two children ended up in care. In 1992, Sunny and Jesse (posthumously) were exonerated.

We can only imagine how we might react in similar circumstances – personally I think I’d be one bitter, angry middle-aged woman full of hate and despair at having lost nearly 20 years of my life for something I didn’t even do. But Sunny’s completely the opposite. A couple of weeks ago, she visited Australia to promote her autobiography, Stolen Time. Amnesty International, in conjunction with the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, arranged for her to speak at a seminar protesting the death penalty. I’m glad I braved the torrential rain on that freezing cold, windy night because to hear her speak was incredibly inspiring. Rather than being consumed with hate and anger, she is filled with love – for life, her children and her new partner, John. During her time inside, she used meditation and a positive attitude to survive. It’s hard to believe you could still have a sense of humour after such an ordeal as hers, but at the seminar, she explained her current limp by joking about how after surviving a death sentence she had to something dramatic, so she got hit by a car. She’s Sunny by name and sunny by nature; a shining example of the strength of the human spirit and of compassion. The next time Ms Hilton whines about being deprived of her creature comforts for a couple of months, someone should give her a copy of Sunny’s book to read.

Stolen Time by Sunny Jacobs is published by Random House.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Drug warning

Last week Roche announced that it has recalled its HIV drug, Viracept, due to the fact it may be contaminated. According to information on the drug manufacturer’s website, an active substance in the drug may contain an impurity called methane sulfonic acid ethyl ester. Last week ACON President Adrian Lovney issued a statement urging anyone taking the drug to visit their GP (SX 333).

All well and good, but here comes the bit that makes a complete and utter nonsense of so-called ‘drug testing’. “Roche has advised ACON that the effects of the contaminant in humans has not been studied,” Lovney said. “However, studies in animals show that the class of chemical called alcylmesilates – which includes methane sulfonic acid – may have the potential to be carcinogenic if administered in very large quantities.”

Not studied in humans. I repeat, NOT studied in humans. Instead, non-humans with totally different body systems to us (including chimps, which at a molecular level are very different) are subjected to cruel and inhumane torture to conclude that if we imprison them in cages and inject them with large doses of poisonous substances, they’ll probably get cancer. Wow, really? Never would have guessed. Extrapolating such ‘information’ to humans is not only scientifically inaccurate, it’s downright dangerous.

It’s why the thalidomide disaster happened – women gave birth to deformed babies, which wasn’t predicted in animal tests. It’s why drugs like Vioxx are taken off the market, after they’ve been deemed ‘safe’ due to ‘animal experiments’. On the flipside, if lemon juice is administered to a rat, it will kill it. Should we all rush to stop consuming lemon juice? And the release of penicillin was delayed when its discoverer, Alexander Fleming, put it to one side because it didn’t work in rabbits. Only when Fleming had a sick human patient and nothing else to try did he administer penicillin – with excellent results. (See for more info and examples.)

To put things into perspective, despite the supposed stringency of animal tests on drugs deemed safe for human consumption and released onto the market, two million Americans become seriously ill and approximately 100,000 people die every year because of reactions to medicines they were prescribed. This figure exceeds the number of deaths from all illegal drugs combined, at an annual cost to the public of more than US$136 billion in healthcare expenses.

Don’t be fooled by drug companies’ reassurances about the safety of their products – remember, as long as they rely on outdated, pseudo-science like animal experiments, consumers are ultimately the first human ‘guinea pigs’. I’m not against prescription drugs per se – of course some of them help people considerably and save lives, including HIV drugs – but this is despite, not because of, horrendous, painful experiments on animals. Roche’s understanding of how its contaminated products might affect humans is allegedly “evolving”. Maybe they, along with other drug manufacturers, can evolve to the point where they embrace 21st century technology that enables testing on human cells. Just a thought…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Together forever

Two lesbians – life partners who’d been together “forever” – were found dead at the Villa Marin residential retirement complex in California, the Marin Independent Journal (MIJ) reported recently. It appeared that Pauline Putnam, 89, and her partner, Barbara Francisco, 80, had initiated a double suicide. The person who sent me the link to this story wrote in the subject line of the email, ‘This is incredibly sad’. But is it?

According to the MIJ, fellow resident Helen Andrewsen, 86, said the couple, who’d lived at the complex for ten years, were “quiet, independent people, and it was just their choice”. Villa Marin’s Chief Executive, Tom Bucci added: “The two women were life partners. They lived their whole life together. It’s always been a very important part of them to control their destiny.” Neither women had any family he was aware of, and neither was suffering from any illness, Bucci noted.

So, here we have two old women who’d been a couple for a very long time, lived what appears to have been a happy life, shared a room, were treated well by other residents in their final years, had no family, hadn’t degenerated into serious illness, who decided to off themselves at a particular time, together. Personally I don’t find that sad; I think it’s rather beautiful. Yes, they could have lived to 100, but sooner or later, one of them would have died, leaving the other behind, feeling lonely and devastated. Instead of waiting for disease to creep into their ancient bodies and slowly (or not so slowly) take over, causing constant pain and immobility, they took a decision to exit this world, happy and together. All power to them.

Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship with a loved one will at some stage ponder these things: Which one will die first? How? Will it be a long, drawn-out process from illness, or sudden, unexpected death? Will that kiss you gave him or her that morning as you leave for work be your last? Many of us won’t have a choice in how or when we or our partners die, but I’d like to think my girlfriend Tracie and I will get to the stage that Barbara and Pauline did – only we’ll be a pair of totally batty old bags in the vein of Bette Davis’s Baby Jane Hudson who will terrify anyone living in close proximity to us. We’ll still be dying each other’s hair at 90 (providing we still have some and if not, it’ll be wigs all round), wearing a thoroughly ridiculous amount of drag-queen make-up and dancing round the sitting-room to ‘Sisters Are Doing it for Themselves’ (in other words, nothing will have changed except our age and number of wrinkles). One day, we’ll decide it’s time to move on to the next world – for our physical bodies to expire and our souls to fly into the spiritual ether before being reincarnated into the nubile bodies of two young, beautiful supermodels – together. Here’s hoping.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

La Loren

There are times when it’s hammered home to me just how unlike the average journalist I am. I think it’s something to do with one of my principles in life: that social convention is there to be flied in the face of. So estranged do I feel from fellow journos sometimes that I might as well be among aliens. Nowhere was this more evident than the press conference last week for Sophia Loren, who’d flown into town as a guest of the Italian Australian Film Festival.

Having been declined a one-on-one interview with La Loren due to her “tight schedule”, I arrived at the Shangri-La Hotel (so love the name!) in the city early to secure a front-row seat in the Grand Ballroom to ensure a perfect view of the 72-year-old Italian screen goddess. Paparazzi were plentiful, along with a plethora of broadcast and print journalists looking for a quote from Sophia – including me. The first few questions weren’t exactly riveting: ‘Who was your favourite leading man?’ ‘Did you ever consider becoming a singer as you have a lovely voice?’ ‘What would you have done if you hadn’t become a movie star’? Snooooooooooze. Time to liven things up, I thought. Regular readers of this magazine will know that I have a huge thing for older, glamorous women. But – I like them to be feisty, outspoken and opinionated, too. Vacuousness is just not for me. So, with this in mind, I threw my hand up, took the roving microphone, announced myself as “Katrina Fox, journalist with SX, a weekly magazine for the gay community”, and asked my question.

“Do you support gay marriage?” Silence. Then uncomfortable murmurings from the audience. Eventually, Sophia repeats the question: “Do I support gay marriage?” Pause. Cue a frown, handwaving and flicking of hair, then: “You know, I don’t think this is the right place to talk about these kinds of things. Let’s talk about movies, let’s talk about other things … there’s so many things involved in [gay marriage].” No kidding! So many things – like a group of people not having the same human rights as others. Yep, waaaay too complicated, Sophia. Sorry to have bothered you and thought that you might have appreciated a thought-provoking question instead of the shallow, bog-standard ones you’ve had to answer over and over for the past 50 years. Silly me.

Sophia’s response, while not unexpected, was a tad disappointing, but what really got me was the round of applause from the rest of the journalists in the room at Sophia’s reply. One guy at the back even piped up, “Stupid question”. Yeah, well, didn’t hear you come up with a better one, mate, so up yours! Unfortunately I wasn’t asked to leave. That honour went to a journo from ABC’s The Chaser who asked Sophia ten zany questions in a row, ending with ‘Do you fart?’ before being escorted out by security. Hmmm. Maybe I have allies in the industry, after all.