So it actually happened…

2 weeks ago today, Brexit actually was not far off becoming a reality. Staying up on the evening of the 23rd June to see the first result come in, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to wake up to on the 24th. The final poll I looked over earlier that afternoon suggested that Remain was in favour to win, albeit narrowly. The results from Gibraltar came in at 96% Remain, which was to be expected, but as Newcastle’s results came in just after midnight, Remain’s lead was not as high as hoped. This didn’t look good. If expected Remain strongholds were coming in lower than expected already, Remain seemed to be losing ground early on, and the counting had only just begun. With work the next day, I couldn’t pull an all-nighter, so I set my alarm for 6am – an hour before the official result was expected – and settled in for the night.

Waking at 5.30am, my mind obviously sensed I was going to need a little more time to get ready for work based on the news we were waking to. Reaching out to check my phone, my boyfriend was already 2 steps ahead – ‘Do you want to know the answer?’ I thought I already had the verdict, but I wasn’t 100%. ‘I think I know’. Opening the laptop to get the live coverage of the results, confirmed what we thought we knew. I was in total shock. Leave had essentially won, and in a hour that would be official.

Never have I felt such a reaction to the result of an election – my stomach dropped. I was in complete shock. I always knew it would be close, and at 52%/48% it was, but I had hoped those final polls would be right and that Remain would edge a small victory. I was expecting us to have to come to terms with an almost 50/50 split of the electorate, as per my last post before the referendum, but still, the shock that the result was in and official hung over me all of Friday, the weekend, and to a certain extent, it continues to do so now.

I guess this isn’t exactly a unique story. In fact, the shock and surprise we have seen over the past two weeks only highlights how no one really thought it would happen. It seems Boris Johnson chanced his arm on the Leave side. He could then sweep in, become MP and toe the Eurosceptic line, or whatever line he had decided on for that week. It seems as if the entire Leave campaign was in shock that they actually won, as demonstrated by their complete lack of a plan since the results came in. Yet it also seems the Remain campaign was also in a similar position.

I was never a fan of the official Remain campaign’s efforts, if I am honest – I agreed with them, of course, but I really think they missed the mark in making a great case for the Remain side. In fact, I actually unsubscribed from their mailing list a couple of weeks before the referendum because their emails were so uninspired in the lead up to polling day. The campaign failed to capture the minds of the public, too focused on the economics behind the vote to Remain. The official StrongerIn campaign failed to convince and compel, and certainly could have been stronger in its message.

It has been a busy couple of weeks since the results came in. We have seen David Cameron, Boris Johnson, many shadow ministers, and now Nigel Farage quit their respective positions. The contest for leadership of the Conservative party continues, the UKIP contest will soon start, and then there are the actual negotiations with the European Union and the triggering of Article 50. Added to this, we see Sinn Fein calling for a discussion on a United Ireland, Nicola Sturgeon opening up debate on the future of Scotland, and even Wales questioning its role in the UK. Gibraltar is also left wondering where it stands now, as are the 48% who voted Remain, and lost by 4%. The EU citizens living in the UK, and the UK citizens living in the EU, including myself, are wondering where they stand too. The results have opened up a rift in the UK – a deep chasm has formed – a lot of the pressures were, of course, there before the referendum, and I assume whichever way the result went, it was always going to widen. There are many, many unanswered questions and the future is uncertain right now. We need to work together to find solutions, and to minimise adverse impacts across the board. The increase in racial attacks needs to be bought under control immediately, as this referendum cannot be seen to legitimise racism that has been boiling under the surface.

I am very disappointed in the result. I feel distanced from ‘home’, and I certainly don’t feel proud.


Europe on a turning point?



2016 has been a busy year for member states of the EU, and it doesn’t look like it is going to calm down any time soon. Austria recently voted for their new president (a largely ceremonial role), but with 0.6% between the winning independent/former Green Party candidate Van der Bellen (50.3%) and far-right FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs – Austrian Freedom Party) Hofer (49.7%), the election was too close to call until the postal votes were counted. While we can rejoice at the fact that Austria will not have Hofer, a man who carries a gun for ‘protection’ due to increased migration and threatened to use the (limited) powers he would have had as president to their full extent by potentially dissolving parliament, we must also consider the fact that 49.7% of the Austrian electorate voted for him. The country was quite literally divided down the middle, and while Van der Bellen may have secured the role in the end, we cannot ignore the fact that such huge numbers supported, and continue to support Hofer’s ideologies.

The Austrian presidential election isn’t the start however, and it certainly isn’t the end either. Europe has been seeing a shift – some might say a lurch – to the right recently. In Germany, AfD (Alternative für Deutschland – Alternative for Germany) received 24.3% of the vote in the local elections (2016) in Saxony-Anhalt, 15.1% in Baden Württemberg and 12.6% in the Rheinland-Palatinate. Their membership numbers continue to rise and currently stand at around 20,000 – this is all for a party that was formed in 2013 on a largely EU-sceptic message. Since then the AfD has turned ever more to the right, as seen in their most recent manifesto and its outward islamophobia.

This year has also seen Sweden and Denmark reintroduce border controls in response to the migrant crisis, while Denmark  also approved policy to seize belongings from migrants entering the country over the value of 10,000 DKK (around €1,344). The Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) grew to be the second largest in last year’s election, jumping from 12% to 21% over the period of just four years, while in Sweden the Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats) recently polled at 24.5%, making it the largest party in the country. Like the AfD and the FPÖ, they both oppose immigration and multiculturalism in their respective countries. The UK has seen similar with the somewhat slower success of UKIP (UK Independence Party) toeing a similar party line to the above mentioned parties. The fear of immigration has largely dominated the campaign leaflets, slogans and speeches in the build up to the UK’s EU membership referendum tomorrow (23rd June). Across the Channel, France has seen the steady rise of Marine Le Pen of the Front National, while the Netherlands has Geert Wilder of the Partij Voor De Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) spreading a similar message of intolerance, ignorance and a desire to look after ones ‘own’ before others. 

Tomorrow is a big day for the UK, its closest neighbours, the EU and in all honesty, the world. The campaign has been vicious – focusing on immigration, the economy and… immigration. The EU is by no means perfect, but to throw our toys out of the pram when the going gets tough is hardly the answer, nor a solution. The Leave campaign seems to be plagued by an old world view of the UK and its former empire. Like Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’, there is a harking back to a time that for some were the ‘glory days’ – the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Personally, I am of the opinion that colonialism isn’t something to be celebrated, but for others it seems to be a tough pill to swallow that the UK cannot bark orders as part of a union (as a side note, it seems to be forgotten that while the EU is a union, the UK plays a heavy role in the decision making process and continues to carry substantial weight behind it as a key player). I certainly hope that Friday brings the news of a vote to remain in the EU – it would be sad to see the UK turn its back on the EU as a project, and as a union.

Sadder still is the prospect of further exit referenda in the near future – if the UK does decide to leave, it will place the future of the EU as a whole on thin ice at a time when all member states need to pull together. Alongside the rise of right wing parties across many member states, we face an interesting chapter in the as-yet-unwritten future of Europe.

(I do not own the rights to this image)

GAZE 2015 – A Sinner In Mecca

It’s been over a year since my last post, and a couple of missed opportunities to write have flown on by – GAZE 2014, and the Irish Marriage Equality Referendum being the main ones of note. It has, however, also been a while since I have seen a film that made me want to get back here – this weekend, as part of GAZE 2015 (Dublin’s LGBT film festival), I went to see Parvez Sharma’s A Sinner in Mecca and I got the urge to share some thoughts…

To set the scene, I was really excited about going to see this film. I had seen the trailer posted online a couple of months ago, and for anyone who has read any of my previous posts, I have an interest in LGBT life in the Middle East. I was hoping to learn more about Mecca, hajj and Islam in a first hand documentary in Saudi Arabia – creating this film in itself was a huge step, particularly as filming is banned in Mecca. On top of that, films coming out of Saudi Arabia are rare at best, and I was hoping this would follow in the footsteps of the wonderful Wadjda.

Unfortunately, the trailer set this film up to be more of a documentary than it was in reality. The tension surrounding Sharma’s filming in Mecca was mentioned twice at best, and as he was using a smartphone to record, it must have been more than obvious to passers-by. After a powerful opening, showing the dialogue the director has with a gay man in Saudi Arabia online, the director’s sexuality plays almost no role in this film. As the film continues it becomes clear that there is no substance to this documentary shot on a smartphone – I would have hoped for more interviews away from Mecca to intersect the repeated shots of the Kaaba, and a discussion of the apparent topic of this film, i.e. being a member of the Muslim LGBT community. Of course, I understand this may not be easy to get on camera, but after such a strong opening, the documentary failed to keep up this momentum.

I was hoping to leave the screening with a greater understanding on homosexuality in the Muslim world, of faith and sexuality, and a struggle to combine these. To a greater extent I was also hoping for an increased understanding of life in Saudi Arabia.

While hajj was explained as Sharma completed the stages of his pilgrimage, it would have been interesting to hear from the non-LGBT community more about the significance of this journey. Unfortunately the film feels like Sharma set off on a personal journey to find a place for his sexuality and faith to be able to coexist, but in reality, it falls short of the expectations set out by the trailer and hype around the film.

I know I was not the only one to feel this way, my boyfriend and friend who came along to the screening felt the same, and despite the director being in attendance, the room emptied pretty quickly as soon as the final credits started to roll.

What had potential to be such an interesting subject matter, and a groundbreaking documentary, is unfortunately 80 minutes many of us will not get back.

New In Town – Part II


For those of you who have taken a peek at my ‘About’ section recently, you might have noticed that I am now located in Dublin, Ireland, which makes me an ex-Berliner in turn. Packing, planning, moving, and finding work and somewhere to live have busied me for the last month and I have been a little quiet here, but with everything in line I hope to upload some new posts in the coming days and weeks: watch this space!

In the meantime, I have taken a free morning to finally update my Flickr account (remembering my login details was the hardest challenge I have faced in weeks!) Come take look at some photos from trips I have taken in the last year or so right here.

The Impact of (Re)acting


Tuesday 27th May 2014. 2 days since the ballot boxes for the European Elections were closed after 4 consecutive days of voting across the EU. I would say 2 days since the dust has settled from the results, but I sense that the dust is still a long way from reaching the ground. For me, stemming from the UK, UKIP’s victory struck a particularly strong chord, but as the results rolled in from France, Denmark, and the remaining countries where far-right gains were palpable, I realised this worrying gain was something that was affecting Europe as a unit.

If I am truly honest, I can’t say that I am all that surprised. Rhetoric in the UK has been particularly anti-EU for a while now and a referendum has been on the cards. Now, the main shock is that we are edging ever closer to the referendum becoming a reality. With the EU elections behind us, hurdle number 1 is down, hurdle number 2 (the general election in 2015) is fast approaching, and as the mood worsens, this is an ever-growing concern.

If these turnout figures show us anything, it’s apathy. While the UK didn’t have the lowest turnout (by far), a rate of between 20-30% is still nothing to shout from the rooftops about. In fact, this figure represents between 12.7 and 19.1 million people (based on 63.7 million people in the UK). This in turn suggests that a huge proportion of the population either simply did not care about the election, or didn’t want to/didn’t manage to register to vote. Then, of course, there are the people who withheld their vote out of protest. On the other hand, in the last general election 65.1% of people turned out to vote. Bearing these figures in mind, it could be argued that UKIP’s victory can simply be accounted to the fact that UKIP voters, angry at the EU, turned out in force to vote, dominating the polls and sending out shockwaves as the votes began to be counted.

Of course, even if this is an explanation, this victory shouldn’t be cast aside. Seeing this result mirrored across other member states only enforces the message that Europe isn’t happy. We are now entering a crucial stage, where reforms must be discussed. The EU is by no means perfect, but it also should not be allowed to collapse. The UK, in particular, now enters a turbulent time in the build up to the general election and the referendum on Scottish Independence. The mainstream political parties need to rebuild trust with the voting public, and the EU needs to rework itself to ensure its future. It would be a great shame to see the UK and Europe descend into crisis, for the Right to take a hold on national governments and for the intolerant to grasp at power.

(I do not own the rights to this image)

Equal Marriage?


This weekend the ‘UK’ became the 8th state in Europe to legalise same-sex marriage, placing it in a small group alongside Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain. While this is a historic moment, and certainly one to celebrate no matter what your view point on marriage as an institution, it is also a moment to reflect on the progress that has been made, and most importantly, on the progress still to be made.

It is pretty striking that only 8 nations in Europe offer full marriage equality. These countries are more or less neighbours and form the Western section of Europe. It is, however, slightly misleading to consider the UK as a nation of full marriage equality, considering that the law passed only covers England and Wales. Scotland will allow same-sex marriages from Autumn this year onwards, and Northern Ireland does not foresee a discussion in the near future. This is not something unusual, and is in fact similar to the stalemate that Germany finds itself in today.

Marriage equality is, most importantly, not the only yardstick to measure equality by. Legislation counts for one half, but the other half must be counted against public attitude and day-to-day life. While it is great that same-sex couples can marry in a country where it was a crime to even be gay 47 years ago, it is crucial to remember that same-sex couples do not necessary feel safe to behave in public as a straight couple might. Homosexuals still have to consider coming out over and over again, and wonder if it will effect their life at work and other aspects of their daily routine.  Homosexuals are still beaten up and attacked in acts of homophobic violence. Of course, these are problems that affect different people in different areas on numerous levels, but even at a base level, homosexuals still have to endure name-calling, heckling and snide remarks. While marriage equality is a huge step in the right direction, until suicide rates, hate crimes levels and the above listed significantly drop, there is still a lot to fight for. Away from home, and around the world there are plenty of much larger issues and more dangerous circumstances that we must bear in mind. We have not reached a stage where we can rest on our laurels.

Various recent examples include:

On the topic of marriage equality: BBC – “Fifth of Britons would turn down invitation”

On whether ‘marriage equality’ is even a valid term: Buzzfeed – “6 ways the UK still doesn’t have marriage equality”

Perhaps the most powerful presentation of the reality of discrimination: Panti’s Noble Call 

(I do not own the rights to this image)


Sexual Healing


Sex education. This phase probably conjures up various emotions and flashbacks. Sex education holds a certain air of taboo, a definite sense of embarrassment and (should) hold a huge amount of importance. Secondary school is, on most levels, pretty horrendous. Add sex ed to the mix of hormones and you are bound to make a class of spotty teenagers go red. However, despite all this ’embarrassment’ (see, I can put I speech marks now) sex ed has a very serious and important role, with what could be a life changing message. This is, of course, if it is done properly.

We had a very enthusiastic teacher for our sex ed class at school and while we thought this was hilarious in that did-she-just-say-that kind of way, and while she was probably the most thorough of the bunch, she and the science teachers who gave us more of an anatomical view, didn’t really, now I come to think of it cover that much. Boys, put the condom on a dummy. Check. Girls, take the pill. Check. (This combo, she called ‘Double Dutch’ – something that still baffles me now.) Make sure you are ready speech. Check. And then, it was pretty much back to personal hygiene ‘lessons’. Sex ed, much like most first sexual experiences, over in 60 seconds.

Recently sex ed has been discussed in the House of Lords, which I am sure got many of them very hot under their Savile Row collars. Surprise, surprise – they voted against making sex education mandatory in primary and secondary school. 209 t0 142 voted against, in fact. Included in this bill was the mandatory inclusion of hetro- and homosexual sex education. Now, like I said before, school is horribly humiliating for many, and queer kids don’t get it any easier. Sure you might get some puerile comments from the back of the class when the teacher starts explaining the ins and outs of anal sex, but I think a lesson’s worth of discomfort is worth it compared to the potential side effects of unprotected sex.  Teenage pregnancy is down on last year according to the NHS, but considering we already had a rate that overshadowed the rest of Europe, this in no way means we are tackling the issue as well as we could. HIV/AIDS infections have seen an increase in recent years despite a decline in the last decade. While thorough and inclusive sex education may not have a direct effect on these numbers, they can only help. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. Considering the fact that homosexual sex is rarely (I could even say barely) covered in your typical sex education lesson, any inclusion could only be of benefit. Addressing homosexuality in sex education and citizenship classes can only help in exposing school children to the world outside their school grounds. For pupils struggling with their sexuality, this could only help in offering recognition and inclusion. For pupils struggling with other people’s sexualities, this could only help in opening their minds.

With David Cameron’s ‘porn filter’ in full operation, blocking safe content across the land, teenagers now have limited access to sex education online. How many teenagers do you know, that would be willing to ask certain ’embarrassing’ questions in class? I mean the pupils who really want the answer, not the pupils looking for a laugh. This block affects all teenagers looking for advice, and there have been reports of this filter blocking advice websites and sites with gay content. While I can see that internet forums and the like can be damaging for an impressionable teenager looking for answers, I believe that blocking on a keyword basis is not the way forward.

In a final piece of news from the Houses of Parliament, certain Conservative backbenchers want to introduce restrictions on HIV+ migrants entering the UK. While only 16 MPs have signed so far, this is an alarming development. Something that only stands to support the vilification and stigmatisation of whose with HIV further.

It’s about time the government took sexual health seriously with a contemporary mindset, instead of the outdated opinions of the House of Lords.

Please Like Me


A post entitled Please Like Me may sound like a self indulgent plead for attention, but fortunately it is actually the title of Australia’s answer to… Girls (but I want to avoid this one word summation, because it is really so much more). Aired in Spring 2013, I learnt about the six part series in this month’s Attitude – where the series was compared to Lena Dunham’s Girls and Simon Amstell’s Grandma’s House – both of which I love and both of which are fair comparisons.

Enough about similarities though. This show is a little bit of a slow starter, but it picks up by the second episode.  Created by Josh Thomas, the series follows the awkward life (in the way that all 20-something have an awkward life) of 20 year old Josh (played by Thomas himself), and his group of friends. In the opening scene we learn that Josh is gay, something most of his friends and family have know for a long time, yet something that seems to be news to Josh. In the first of the surreal events in this series, Josh unwittingly meets his first boyfriend Geoffrey by chance, as Geoffrey throws himself on Josh at best friend Tom’s office. Thomas’ comedy is refreshing, dark and highly focused on awkward situations, comic juxtapositions and those moments that you always thought could only happen to you.

Without going into the plot too much, one scene that comes to mind is when Geoffrey and Josh first attempt sex. Josh’s ex-girlfriend (of only a couple of days ago) is sitting in the living room as the two head to Josh’s room. Worried that the others will hear them, Josh asks Geoffrey to put some music on. Perfectly, and somewhat appropriately (this is his first time after all), Geoffrey chooses music from the second act of Romeo & Juliet because “it’s romantic “.

The series is a great portrayal of life as a young 20-something, and a refreshing portrayal of life as a young 20-something gay man. Josh is an angst-y and awkward character with a dark sense of humour, that largely goes straight over Geoffrey’s head. The show doesn’t dwell on Josh’s coming out  and he doesn’t especially struggle with his sexuality, but instead with the difficulties that life throws us all and this is what makes the series a real hit. So much so, it has been recommissioned for a second series.

Out in the Dark (2012)


As The Bubble and The Invisible Men did before it, Out in the Dark considers the situation homosexual Palestinians find themselves constrained by, albeit with more mainstream media attention. This film, which was widely spoken about and generally well praised, centres around the story of Nimr and Roy. This feature film does indeed have many good points and I did, on the whole, enjoy it, but it does lack a certain something and can, perhaps, be accused of bias when the viewer bears in mind that its budget came from the Israel Film Fund. While this can be seen in places, it is unfair to completely suggest the film is biased. Israel is not shown in an explicitly ‘good’ light – turning away asylum seekers, dubious security forces and homophobia, are just a few negative points that come to mind. This does make the film more balanced than it could have turned out to be, but the film does still have, on the whole, a more biased view of the Palestinian Territories and plays to stereotypes.

It is difficult to tell what are stereotypes and what behaviours are based on elements of truth. It would seem that being homosexual is something less accepted in the largely Muslim Palestinian Territories, which is a trend we see across the rest of the Middle East. Considering that we see a negative reaction from Roy’s Israeli parents regarding this sexuality, the more extreme reaction from Nimr’s Palestinian family fits this trend. Here I would say the film isn’t biased and, in fact, highlights that homophobia, in varying degrees, is still a problem in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories.


As mentioned above we do see negative aspects of Israeli society throughout too, which points in the general direction of a largely unbiased film. However, there are certainly points in the film when the desperate need for a bias clearly couldn’t be suppressed any longer. There are certainly points in the film when Roy treats Nimr to his own special brand of colonial snobbery. Roy can be seen to label Nimr’s family as terrorists from the second he sees the report from the Israeli news channel, to name just one example. There definitely seems to be the suggestion that Roy and his family are more developed socially than Nimr’s family, which opens up a whole separate debate – mainly, is it actually vicariously Roy’s family’s fault as Israel cuts off the Palestinian Territories from the luxuries of a rich and developed state.

Moving away from any political or social bias in the director’s or writer’s stance, and looking at the relationship between Roy and Nimr, we see yet another great portrayal of a homosexual couple on screen. The film is generally quite praiseworthy in this respect and I, for one, appreciated that Roy and Nimr didn’t sleep together the night they met and the fact that they weren’t portrayed as two men who were emotionally or psychologically damaged by their sexuality.

As the film progresses the two men realise that they can’t be together in Israel, not matter how many strings Roy tries to pull. With a solution in sight, the film closes with a close race to escape. One bugbear for me was that we will never find out if either of them made their separate ways successfully, to actually facilitate their new life abroad, but in reality, if it had ended in this ‘happily ever after’ fashion then I probably would have complained about that too.

The Velvet Rage


Alan Downs’ The Velvet Rage was brought to my attention by Buzzfeed’s ’27 must have queer summer reads’ standing at number two. Intrigued I decided to buy a copy and see what the fuss was about, having done a little psychology at school made me wonder what Downs was going to discuss. I was slightly concerned about the ‘self help’-esque style, but as the Observer recommendation on the cover states The Velvet Rage is “[a] touchstone in gay culture just as Goodbye to Berlin was in the 30s…” I thought it would be worth a read.

Unfortunately, I could sense from the first page that this book was not aimed at me, and even less so, actually of interest to me. As I pushed through the first 130 pages, bemused, yet oddly willing to read on, I finally gave up, however, when I just couldn’t take any more. I finally put the book down on the commute to work as I read:

“It is rare that a gay man makes it from young adulthood into middle age without suffering at least moderate relationship trauma. The odds are stacked wildly against the possibility that even the most well-adjusted gay man would choose to be in a relationship with another well-adjusted gay man. It rarely happens. And so, two wounded men come together in what starts as a loving union and often ends in a traumatic and heart-wounding separation.”

For me, that was it. I had really tried to make it through this book, taking what was said with a pinch of salt and hoping it would somehow save itself from being hyperbolic and chronically reductive. From the very first pages, this book only talks of  gay stereotypes, focusing on ‘scene queens’, drug abuse and promiscuous sex.  The book is hugely sweeping, assuming that all gay men have a mother who ‘mothered’ too much and a father who didn’t care enough, which, for a start, reinforces gender stereotypes. It goes on to say all gay men have amazing jobs and houses and live a life of luxury. I felt as if the book was constantly trying to tell me I was damaged and could therefore never seek happiness, despite the fact that I live a perfectly happy life.

Of course, the book does lead up to a climax that I guess tells you how to live a happy/happier life, and that happiness is achievable, but this is a climax I never reached and frankly couldn’t be bothered too. After being constantly bombarded with reasons why I should feel shame and trauma, I realised the ‘happy ending’ wasn’t even worth reaching. It isn’t worth crawling through this book for a solitary chapter at the end that claims everything is going to be fine. Throughout Downs seems to be offloading his own shame and trauma onto the reader, like he has become tired of practising psychology and finally wants someone else to take on this burden.

This book isn’t only anything but enlightening, but it also risks being damaging. With campaigns like ‘It Gets Better’ striving hard to, quite rightly, tell teenagers that being gay is okay and that it does indeed get better, this book risks reversing this. I can’t imagine that a teenager struggling with his (or her, although Downs does open by explaining this book isn’t aimed anyone who identifies as a lesbian) sexuality would find much comfort in this book, unless he pushes through to the end, which if he is seriously doubting his sexuality seems unlikely. The first 130 pages (at least) would, if anything, almost reinforce the negative or confused feelings he might be having. This book doesn’t celebrate homosexuality, it promotes gay stereotypes. This book is very narrow in its target audience and doesn’t include the “entire generation of gay men” it sets out to.

(I do not own the rights to this image)