Russian painter Konstantin Somov isn’t very well known for the dreamy, homoerotic portraits you see here. He was a successful commercial artist from an artistic family, but his most acclaimed work might better be described as “retro,” or even “camp.” Somov was essentially a Rococo revivalist, forgoing the somewhat harsh realism that was popular in Russia at the time for a whimsical gouache and watercolor style that was nearly 200 years old—think big wigs and giant skirts, a lot of fussy-looking depictions of 18th century aristocracy. In some ways, his commercial work was even gayer than his gay boudoir scenes.
In Russia, Somov was an integral part of a thriving and lush arts community centered around a publication he co-founded—World of Art, which also included lavish costume and set design for the Ballets Russes. There were a lot of gay men involved in World of Art, and its predilection with fantasy and luxury were very much out of step with the 19th Century Russian Realism. After the Russian Revolution, Somov likely anticipated his work being denounced as decadent so he immigrated to the U.S. and then Paris. His commercial work is auctioned off for millions at Christie’s, but it’s his underground gay portraiture that’s got the cult following.
It’s cool, you can call this sweater “gay.” It’s the world’s first and only 100% gay object.
Admit it, you’ve used the word “gay” to describe something negative. Oh, you haven’t? Great, glad to hear it, perfect person. This awareness-raising campaign by the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity is for the other people that have used “gay” in a derogatory manner. They’re hoping everyone will think twice before using that word in an inappropriate way.
The Gay Sweater is real and it’s knit from the human hair of over 100 homosexual people who donated their homo-locks to the project.
Watch this to learn more about this hair-y sweater:
I ended my first Notes from the Niallist column by mentioning the collective I am a co-founder of, and performer with, called Tranarchy.
Frankly, it’s Tranarchy that has been taking up most of time, and distracting me from mining the cultural coal face for Dangerous Minds. But that’s the trade-off I guess, as Tranarchy is helping to create the diamonds people discover under all that dust.
As the name would suggest, Tranarchy is a drag-and-trans-heavy collective interested in subverting, and commenting on, normative gender roles. I know that all sounds very serious, but Tranarchy is dedicated to putting the fun first, and letting people discover the message for themselves, without having it rammed down their throats. There’s just too much hectoring in this world already, and not enough people willing to lead by example, i.e. living the life they want to live regardless of what society says. Sniff all you like at the supposed frivolity of drag queens and the “feminine” aesthetic, as historically has been the case with male-dominated, straight society, but always remember how much guts it takes to flaunt your otherness in public.
Besides the political aspect, however, there’s something almost magical going on with Tranarchy. And I mean “magical” in terms of seeing dreams and desires become a reality. We started the collective just over a year ago, and as we have grown at a surprising rate, we have managed to put on events and happenings that, just 18 months ago, we (literally) could only have dreamed of.
So far, we have hosted Manchester’s first ever vogue ball, called Vogue Brawl (now into its second year.) We’ve held a number of interactive film screenings in the style of the legendary Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass in San Francisco (Showgirls, Zoolander, Mad Max: The Road Warrior with Empire Drive-In and Abandon Normal Devices.) We have created promo videos and photos shoots for our events that show off much of Manchester’s untapped talent, and these are beginning to get attention in the States and further beyond. Our most popular film so far is the promo for Vogue Brawl 2: Pride Is Burning, which can be basically summed up as “The Warriors in drag.”
The collective is very aware of gay and trans history and we want to celebrate that. We’ve held a few outlaw parties inspired by the original New York club kids James St James and Michael Alig, and documented them in the style of the sadly-missed pioneering NYC videographer Nelson Sullivan.
This is where it gets interesting, though. Our first outlaw party was a reclaiming of the Manchester tram system, which, as anyone who has ever used public transport will know, can get pretty hairy if you stand out in any way. Our last outlaw party was even bigger, in terms of execution and impact. It was an invasion of, and statement about, Manchester’s annual “Pride” festival of gay culture and awareness.
Every year, Manchester Pride is held in the city’s Gay Village and attracts up to 40,000 people, making it one of the flagship gay Pride festivals in the UK. However, the amount of money raised for charity as opposed to the amount of money raised for personal profit has been a major, running issue for a while, as has the fact that a festival celebrating gay visibility, and interaction with the wider, local community, is held in a walled-off compound that charges people to enter.
However, the one thing the Manchester Pride organizers don’t have control over is the large canal that runs right through the Gay Village, and along side Canal St, where much of the festivities take place. So, as a bit of a lark, Tranarchy took a barge down to the Village this year, and crashed the Pride party to perform a few numbers and make a basic point.
We have issued an official Tranarchy statement detailing some of the problems with Manchester Pride to accompany the YouTube video, and here is an extract from that:
Freeing Pride is not an attack on Pride as a party, and it is not just about the fences and the ticket prices. Its about setting Pride free from the businesses and individuals who seek profit before the well-being of our community. It’s about asking what the event is really about, who benefits from it who should pay for it, and remembering why we do it in the first place! Its about asking whats more important; extra cash for an organization reaching out to the most vulnerable among us, or getting to see Steps [90s pop band] one last time before they slip into room 101?
In short, we were all incredibly nervous about pulling this stunt, but it turned out better than we could have hoped. Check out the old voguing queen we encountered at the end of the video, in the Piccadilly basin, which is a well-known cruising ground:
Our YouTube video channel is here, and for regular news updates, subscribe to Tranarchy on Facebook.
What fresh madness is this? Well, apparently it’s the Japanese version of Rickrolling, “switch and bait” trolling using footage from American gay wrestling porn instead of Rick Astley, and it has been a relatively popular meme over there for the last few years.
As you can imagine from that description, it’s pretty fucking nuts. And very NSFW.
Much of this “wrestling series” stars a guy called Billy Herrington, who has become such a cult figure in Japan that a doll has been made in his honour (above, part of the “panty edition”.) You may have seen some of these kinds of clips before, in particular a 3D computer graphic version of Herrinton riding a clone of himself like a Segway, chasing after a guy on a steamroller, and thought “what the fuck am I watching?” Well, friends, wonder no more, thanks to the folks at Know Your Meme (Herrington also has his own Wiki page with more info.)
Here’s a great example of the wrestling series, an edit of a film called Bayollante, supposedly a parody of Bayonette. Even though this is completely made up, I love this quasi-review-cum-description by YouTube commenter skidreckums:
With a palette of visual effects that would make James Cameron blush and some of the most bone-crunching sound effects to be found outside of a Jell-O factory, Bayollante 4 leaves little to be imagined or desired by anyone lucky enough to stumble across this gem in their local video store’s import bargain bin. Fans of Bart Howard’s 1954 vocal jazz standard, Fly Me to the Moon, will also appreciate the subtle yet fully modern remix heading the otherwise brutal soundtrack. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that SEGAY really has outdone themselves this time. Just writing this review has gotten me wondering if I will ever be able to water my motorcycle with peace of mind again. The great thing about watching Bayollante 4 - Trillion Real Handguns isn’t seeing the beefcakes smack each other down with colorful energy attacks and hard gay magical summons, it’s showing everyone online that I did. It’s official, I’ll never be able to watch anything else again.
Bayollante - Stylish Gay Wrestling (in Japanese) - NSFW:
Nikolai Alekseev, a Russian gay rights activist arrested during a 2010 Moscow protest (picture above) has been convicted of spreading “gay propaganda” by a court in St Petersburg, making him the first to be convicted under the city’s new anti-homosexuality laws. From Pink News:
Mr Alekseev was said to have been fined 5,000 roubles, just over £100, by a court in Russia’s second city for the promotion of homosexuality among minors, AP reports.
The law was approved in February; this is the first time a citizen has been successfully prosecuted under it.
Mr Alekseev had held up a sign reading “Homosexuality is not a perversion” outside the Smolny Institute in April in public view.
A former journalist, Mr Alekseev turned his attention to full-time gay rights campaigning in 2005, setting up the gay rights advocacy group GayRussia.ru.
He has appeared regularly on Russian television and has been honoured for his work by LGBT organisations worldwide.
He has been arrested on numerous occasions for holding illegal Pride marches and gay rights demonstrations and launched lawsuits against Moscow authorities for banning the events and had announced his intention to retire last year.
Afro American gay men are ignored into nonexistence in parts of black culture and are basically second class citizens in gay culture. The black church which has historically played a fundamental role in protesting against civil injustices toward its parishioners has been want to deny its gay members their right to live a life free and open without prejudice. Despite public projections of a “rainbow” community living together in harmonious co-habitation, openly active and passive prejudices exist in the larger gay community against gay Afro Americans.
These make for some beautiful and touching pictures. See more here.
Now here’s something that was sure to be found in the more fabulous Christmas stockings this past festive seasons. Published by the respected London-based record label Soul Jazz, Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is a collection of photographs by Chantal Regnault documenting the titular scene just as it gained worldwide attention thanks to the likes of Malcolm McLaren and Madonna.
Don’t be fooled if you think that voguing was a mere fad that came from nowhere to disappear just as fast as it sprung up 20-odd years ago. Yes, Madonna brought the dance form to the public consciousness, but if you think she invented it, then child, you need educatin’. Voguing started in Harlem in the 60s, where black and latino drag queens and transexuals had started to host their own balls (beauty pageants) outside of white society, and pioneered a new form of dance based on poses copied from Vogue magazine.
But the history of the drag and gay ballroom scene goes back much further than that - by about another hundred years, as explained by noted author and disco historian Tim Lawrence, in his foreword to this book:
Harlem’s Hamilton Lodge staged its first queer masquerade ball in 1869, and some twenty years later a medical student stumbled into another ball that was taking place Walhalla Hall on the Lower East Side. He witnessed 500 same-sex male and female couples ‘waltzing sedately to the music of a good band.
How things have changed - the modern voguing ballroom scene is/was anything but sedate! Lawrence goes on to put into context the concept of a “house” (in effect a surrogate gay family or gang), which has long been a central aspect of vogue and drag culture:
Referencing the glamorous fashion houses whose glamour and style they admired, other black drag queens started to form drag houses, or families that, headed by a mother and sometimes a father, would socialise, look after each other, and prepare for balls (including ones they would host and ones they would attend).
The establishment of the houses also paralleled the twists and turns of New York’s gangs, which flourished between the mid 1940s and the mid 1960s as the city shifted from an industrial to a post-industrial base while dealing with the upheavals of urban renewal, slum clearances and ethnic migration. As historian Eric Schneider argues, gangs appealed to alienated adolescents who wanted to earn money as well as peer group prestige.
Despite the faddish nature of Madonna’s daliance with this scene, voguing and ballroom documentaries like Wolfgang Busch’s How Do I Look and Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (not to mention performers like the late Willi Ninja and his extant House of Ninja) have done much to establish the history of this world and inspire new generations to take part. And it’s not hard to see the appeal - in a recent interview with The Guardian, Chantal Regnault eplained how voguing and its culture helped re-invigorate New York’s nightlife at the peak of the AIDS crisis:
...the Ball phenomena kind of revived New York nightlife, which had shrunk drastically as the first wave of AIDS related sicknessses were decimating the community. The Queens became the stars of the straight New York clubs, and began to be recognized, appreciated and photographed. They appeared on TV shows and were interviewed by TV icons. The voguers also became a big attraction and soon everybody wanted to emulate their dancing style. Two figures were instrumental in launching the trend in the awakened downtown clubs: Susanne Bartsch and Chichi Valenti, two straight white females who both had a knack for the new and fabulous and a big social network.
Why 1989-1992? What happened next?
1989-1992 was the peak of creativity and popularity for the ballroom scene, and when the mainstream attention faded away, the original black and Latino gay ballroom culture didn’t die. On the contrary, it became a national phenomena as Houses started to have “chapters” all over the big cities of the United States. But I was not a direct witness to most of it as I moved to Haiti in 1993.
As Regnault states voguing is still going strong today, with balls in many of America (and the world’s) largest cities, and this book is a perfect introduction to a compelling, not to mention often over-looked, aspect of gay and black history. Regnault managed to capture some of the most recognisable faces from that world showing off in all their finery, while there are fascinating interviews with some of the key players like Muhammed Omni, Hector Xtravaganza, Tommie Labeija and more. Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is quite simply an essential purchase for fans of underground culture.
Avis Pendavis, 1991
Cesar Valentino (right), Copacabana, 1990
RuPaul, Red Zone 1990
Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 by Chantal Reignault (with an introduction by Tim Lawrence) is available to buy from Soul Jazz Records.
Jamaican reggae singer Mista Majah P has released the world’s first pro-gay reggae album. Called Tolerance and featuring rainbow stripes on the cover, the album includes 11 songs, variously in support of same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples, as well as attacks on homophobic bullying and the US military policy, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The tracks also feature swipes at the anti-gay prejudices of ‘murder music’ reggae singer Beenie Man and of the Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding,
Explaining why he created the album, Mista Majah P said: “I want to counter the myths that all Jamaicans are homophobic and that all reggae music is violent and anti-gay. I’m seeking to challenge ignorance and reach out to gay people.”
“My hope is that this cd, Tolerance, will break down the homophobic stance that certain reggae artists and heads of government have taken towards the LGBTQ community. Because of the hateful songs that some performers have been singing, gay people have been threatened and harmed. Some foolish people act upon what these artists are preaching because they worship these artists like gods. My music is about tolerance. It shows that reggae music can respect gay and lesbian people. Reggae music used to be about love, peace and unity. Now it is too often about bigotry and violence. I want to bring the music back to its progressive roots,” said Mista Majah P
“Since releasing the album, Mista Majah P has received numerous death threats and has been warned to not return to Jamaica (he currently resides in California). He’s undeterred and defiant, stating that ‘murder music’ has given reggae a negative image, which is bad for the music industry and for all reggae artists,” noted Mr Tatchell.
Let’s face it - with the Nineties revival beginning to build up steam, it’s only a matter of time before Friends becomes re-evaluated as not just mere trash TV but something deeper, something representative of the culture of the time. And who knows - maybe it was. If the culture of the time was utterly vacuous and so bland and white-washed that having bleached hair was somehow “edgy” and the most rock and roll thing one could do was attend a Hootie And The Blowfish concert. But that wasn’t the 90s I lived through.
Before we go hailing Friends as the voice of a dispossessed generation, let’s take a minute to pause and reflect on how the show represented gay people, and how much of the humor was based on a premise that being gay in and of itself was just so strange and unusual that it’s inherently funny. And that’s not even touching on gender roles as shown in the show - as a friend of mine commented on this clip:
I always thought Friends’ gender policing was outrageous - it seemed like every other episode centred around how hilarious it was that a man was doing things that normal men didn’t do.
Homophobic Friends is a re-edit compilation by Vimeo user WayOutEast, that compiles all the gay-based humor in the show and that runs for over 40 minutes. Bitch Magazine has an excellent feature on this video and its creator, real name Tijana Mamula:
Mamula found that the homophobic and transphobic jokes in Friends tend “to avoid provoking either aversion or anger, and instead prompts the viewer to be swept away by the hilarity of the situations.” Seeing theses moments altogether, one after another, you can see how the audience was presumed to just chuckle and move on. (I couldn’t help but be reminded of the site Microaggressions, which documents the little, caustic everyday incidents that add up to much more).
And wait, there’s more! “I noticed all sorts of other problematic content, some of which I found even more upsetting, like the place of women and foreigners…You could do a whole series of videos, like Misogynistic Friends and Xenophobic Friends.” (See also: this zany montage of the few black characters that have appeared in the show. The overwhelmingly white cast—including the extras, despite the show taking place in New York City—has often been pointed at as one of the show’s shortcomings.)
Robert Mapplethorpe image for The Saint’s “Black Party” 1981 via OrangeMercury.
Thanks to Tony Dunne for the sterling work on this - stitching together various tapes to create a four-and-a-half-hour continuous mix of the DJ Warren Gluck from the closing night of the legendary New York nightclub The Saint in 1988. Tony says:
“There may be slight differences from the originals because of the tape endings. Sound quality could of course be better but the recording was taken from cassette tapes.”
The Saint was a members-only gay club opened in 1980 by New York club owner Bruce Mailman (St Mark’s Baths), and the architect Charles Terrell. It gained legendary status almost immediately, due in no small part to the huge planetarium-style dome over the dancefloor (which hosted massive light shows and also served to hide and amplify the club’s sound system) as well as the notoriously permissive attitude to sex in the club, in the upstairs areas and at special events like “The Black Party”. Unsurprisingly the AIDS epidemic decimated the club’s clientele, leading to its closure in May 1988 (a year after both Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage). The Saint never received the acclaim for its music in the same way the Garage did, despite mixes like this proving it was just as excellent (the music may have been different but gays were raving long before acid house). University of East London lecturer, disco historian and author Tim Lawrence sums it up in his thesis “The Forging of a White Gay Aesthetic at the Saint, 1980-84” (a must read for fans of disco, gay history and New York nightlife):
...whereas historians of dance culture have hailed the Garage’s Larry Levan to be the most influential DJ in the city during the 1980s, the shifting roster of selectors who worked at the Saint have merited barely a single mention—an unlikely scenario given that privileged white groups often receive more attention than disadvantaged subaltern groups. Based on numerous interviews with key protagonists, documentary material held in the Saint’s archive and recordings of DJ sets from the Saint, this article redresses the imbalance by outlining the contributions of Jim Burgess, Alan Dodd and Roy Thode, the Saint’s principal DJs during the opening 1980–81 season, as well as Shaun Buchanan, George Cadenas, Michael Fierman, Michael Jorba, Robbie Leslie, Howard Merritt, Chuck Parsons, Terry Sherman and Sharon White… their collective impact was considerable, even if their very collectivity also meant that each was ultimately disposable.
For more information on the history of The Saint, and the ongoing “Saint At Large” reunion parties, visit Saint At Large.com. But for now lose yourself in Warren Gluck’s awesome final dj set at the club:
It’s been an open secret among film fans, horror geeks and Hollywood executives for a long time. Rumors and innuendo have spread like wild fire but have always been rigorously denied. Until now. Finally, enough time has passed that the truth can be revealed. Without fear of reprisals, a back lash or any kind of black listing. The world has moved on and we’re now ready to accept the truth. So say it loud and say it proud people: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge is GAY! Waaaay gay.
Yes, Nightmare… 2 has always been singled out among the franchise for its homosexual undertones (or overtones to be more precise) but now, over 25 years later, the cast and crew involved in the making of the film are coming clean with their intentions. Indeed, a fair number of the staff were gay (which is not so unusual for a film production) but writer David Caskin now openly admits that his script did indeed deal with homosexuality, and the lead character Jesse’s confusion over his own orientation. However, what he thought were subtexts in his writing and in the eventual movie were unintentionally ramped up over the course of the filming to become almost screamingly obvious. I guess it didn’t help that lead actor Mark Patton was openly gay (though not at the time of filming). The below clip is from the 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, and features enlightening and funny interviews with all the major players (including Robert Englund) on this most touchy of topics:
Still, for all the interesting subtextual analysis it offers, Nightmare… 2 is by far the weakest film in the series. It lacks tension and fear and contains no truly memorable death scenes (apart from maybe coach getting spanked to death in the locker room). And I should know about these things—you see, as a child I was obsessed with the Elm Street films. Yes, as a child. By the time I was eleven years old I had watched all the Nightmare films I could (which at that point was four, the latest being Nightmare… 4: The Dream Master which featured the recurring character Alice and an amazing “roach motel” death sequence). On my time off at school I would often find myself drawing Freddy Kreuger comics that involved nubile teens meeting an array of grisly deaths. I mean, all that stuff is completely natural for a ten year old. Right? And look at me now. I’m perfectly fine.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is available to buy here.
Many thanks to Peaches Christ!
After the jump, the trailers for Never Sleep Again and Nightmare on Elm Street part 2: Freddy’s Revenge...
More forward thinking hip-hop, at last! This is the kind I really dig - addressing issues of sex and sexuality which (come on now, let’s be honest) hip-hop has never had a great track record for. Especially where women and gays are concerned.
Shunda K is one half of the out-spoken, lesbian, Christian rap group Yo Majesty. Hailing from Tampa, Florida, Y!M have developed a significant cult following throughout the world, signing to one of the UK biggest indie labels, Domino, and releasing their album Futuristically Speaking… Never Be Afraid in 2008. Their singles “Club Action”, “Don’t Let Go” and guest spot on Basement Jaxx’s “Twerk” have all proved big club hits, and taken the traditional Southern hip-hop sound into areas more electro-friendly and uptempo.
The band are currently on a temporary hiatus, but Shunda has been busy, with guest spots on Peaches’ “Billionaire” and DJ Flore’s Raw album under her belt. This January she released her debut solo album The Most Wanted, preceded by the singles “Here I Am (ft Scream Club’s Cindy Wonderful)” and “I’m Da Best (ft Yo Majesty’s Shon B)” on Fanatic Records.
Yet again defying the traditional notions of what “Southern hip-hop” means, The Most Wanted keeps the dancefloor pressure at an uptempo maximum, with production from UK garage and funky artists like Deekline and French electro producers like Les Gourmets. Shunda K matches them step for step with a breakneck flow that covers God, gays, love, sex, spirituality, enlightenment, education and pussy. Yeah, lots of pussy. The album’s first video “Im Da Best” has just dropped, and sets the scene perfectly:
Shunda K - “Here I Am (ft Scream Club’s Cindy Wonderful)”
Shunda K - My Light (ft Tan)
The Most Wanted has got great reviews already, with MTV Iggy declaring “This is an exciting, deep, and original work of hip hop. Get on it.” Shunda K now stands as the world’s best known and respected gay hip-hop artist. Could she be the first gay rapper to cross over into the mainstream?
JD Samson is the girl with the coolest moustache in rock’n'roll. Today sees the release of the debut album by JD’s band MEN, Talk About Body on Iamsound Records. MEN are a three piece that combine the best in dance-pop and punk rock with a definite queer/feminist outlook. JD already has form in this area - she is a member of Kathleen Hanna’s post-Bikini Kill/riot grrrl electronica act Le Tigre, and last year she worked with Christina Aguilera on her ill-fated Bi-On-Ic album., which saw the “Beautiful” warbler trying to break out of her pop/soul niche but not quite succeeding. Nice try though.
However, MEN is JD’s passion - they have been touring the globe for the past few years spreading their word to the masses from a beat up van, with just a laptop, a MicroKorg and two guitars, and collaborating with a host of different musicians and artists as they get their sound just right. This is from their Wikipedia page:
MEN is a Brooklyn-based band and art/performance collective that focuses on the energy of live performance and the radical potential of dance music. MEN speaks to issues such as trans awareness, wartime economies, sexual compromise, and demanding liberties through lyrical content and an exciting stage show.
It would be tempting to say that they are at the forefront of a new wave of electronic queercore, only that would distract from the music itself, something that JD has had to put up with a lot already because of her unique image. So let’s abandon all preconceived ideas for a little while and just get down to the sound of MEN:
Via the website kickstarter.com, director Leilah Weinraub is looking to raise $25,000 to finish the final cut of her film Shakedown, before the deadline of Monday 7th of February. Focusing on three main performers, the film is a look inside a black, lesbian strip club in L.A. called, appropriately, Shakedown, and also looks at the history of queer strip clubs in Los Angeles. From the Shakedown2011.com website:
SHAKEDOWN emphasizes the symbiotic nature of how things work in a system. Shakedown’s system functions like a family, put into motion for all the reasons that people need a family, support (financial and emotional), a place of self-growth and a place of self-expression. Through the lens of family, a desire for stability and love, the film meditates on dense topics like three generations of teenage pregnancy, lesbian motherhood, chosen family, and money as a symbol of that love.
Director Weinraub says:
I videotaped the shows at Shakedown every Thursday and Friday night for six years. The first two years I recorded the performances and created video installations at the club. The closed-circuit media making was parallel to the by-women for-women performances that were happening on stage, channeling back an instant history to the creators of the moment. On stage at Shakedown there is a narrative being performed, about sex and sexuality and pop music and the emotional interior of the performers. There is the narrative on the stage, then there is the narrative that is told by the stories of the protagonists in the film, then there is the story that is put together when I edit the film. They all work together.
I’m donating to this film, and so should you - it looks great, and has interest for viewers not just black or queer-identified. You can donate at the Kickstarter website , and there’s an interesting range of gifts for donors too. If you liked Paris Is Burning, check it out: