Leather forecast: leather men in the New York gay pride parade, 1980. Photo: Getty
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It turns out there’s more to LGBT films than sex. Sometimes

From London leather men to prostitution in American suburbia, the renamed BFI Flare offered up an eclectic programme.

A cinema with hardly any straight people in it is one of my favourite places to be. When we’re in front of a screen with something queer on it, the sense of camaraderie between us – from middle-aged old-school butch lesbians to young gay men in “I work in the media” glasses – is palpable.

The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was renamed BFI Flare this year to encompass other sexual identities represented in this beautifully eclectic programme. From Concussion – a film about a lesbian who gets hit on the head and decides to become a prostitute – to Age of Consent, a graphic documentary focused on London’s gay male fetish scene, this was cinematic queerness at its most flamboyant. It wasn’t all sex, though (it turns out that there’s more to LGBT films than that). Lilting is a poignant account of grief and the turbulent but tender relationship between a gay man in his thirties (played by Ben Whishaw) and his dead boyfriend’s elderly Chinese-Cambodian mother.

But back to sex. I saw Age of Consent by accident. Thinking (for some reason) that it was a documentary about the more mainstream side of the gay club scene, I was stunned and tickled to be confronted with scenes of leather-clad men doing stuff to each other’s orifices. It’s a surprisingly political film about the refusal of a particular section of the gay community to assimilate heterosexual culture and be “good gays”. An incongruously besuited Peter Tatchell outlines the legal history of gay sex, intercut with some hardcore scenes from inside the London gay leather club the Hoist.

Then there’s Concussion. In Stacie Passon’s debut, Abby Ableman is trapped in the privileged ennui of the suburban American dream. She and her lawyer wife, Kate, live in a green and affluent New York suburb, with their two young children. Abby is a high-end interior designer and is renovating a loft in Manhattan that will soon become her . . . whatever a prostitute’s version of an office is, after a nasty knock on the head during a baseball game makes her question her comfy existence. Concussion is probably the most witty lesbian drama since The Kids Are All Right (2010), though its exploration of prostitution seems naive. The darker side of the trade is hinted at when one client becomes abusive but in general it’s approached as sport for bored, middle-class women – a sort of slutty tennis club.

BFI Flare wasn’t all about sex and neither was it all about films. A highlight for me was an hour between films that I spent in the bar chatting to the 70-year-old trans woman artist Margaret Pepper and wondering whether she’s a modern-day Hogarth. I think she might be.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood