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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Politicians and fashion? Why their approach can be telling

My week, from spying on the spies to Theresa May’s fashion charm offensive – and how Sadiq stole hearts.

About nine months ago I was asked if I wanted to spend a morning with Zac Goldsmith, as he appeared to be wakening from the slumber that had obviously taken hold of him when he decided to run for mayor of London. However, after about three minutes in his company (maybe less, actually) I realised that not even his campaign team – let alone voters in the Borough of Southwark – thought he had a hope in hell of winning.

There was only ever going to be one winner, and the enthusiasm with which Sadiq Khan has been greeted by London has been heartwarming. He won the politician award at GQ’s Men of the Year Awards a few weeks ago, and I’d never heard such a roar as he leapt up on stage to collect it. Well, I’ve heard such roars for the likes of Michael Caine, Elton John and Amy Schumer, but rarely for a politician. In fact, the last time there was such fulsome applause for a politician at the GQ awards was when we gave one to a pre-Sextator David Blunkett. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised: the last time Noel Gallagher graced us with his presence, he asked: “Is this what a Conservative party conference looks like?”

 

On the dole

The recent past is being hauled over so repeatedly that soon there are going to be ­retrospectives of events that happened only last week. Or next week. On paper, the new exhibition at the V&A in London, entitled “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970”, seemed slightly behind the curve, but the reality is very different – as it’s probably the best exhibition you’ll see in London this year.

This is all down to the curation, which was handled by Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes, the wizards behind “David Bowie Is”, the most successful show in the V&A’s history. It’s a terrific exhibition, although being reminded of the cultural and political insurrection of the Sixties also reminds you of the period’s seemingly innate optimism as a new London was mushrooming into life. Winston Churchill was dead, abortion was about to be made legal and the rise in happiness seemed exponential. Britain was experiencing almost full employment (though the government wobbled slightly in the spring of 1966 when it was announced that the jobless total had gone up to half a million). It never occurred to anyone that there might not be a job
waiting for them when they left school or their red-brick university.

 

Priced out

There certainly won’t be a house waiting for them, not if they intend to live in London. The marketing bods behind the new development at Battersea Power Station came in to make a presentation at Vogue House a few weeks ago, showing us lots of slides and videos about their fabulous ­development. There’s a Frank Gehry this and a Frank Gehry that, a swimming pool, a private members’ club and lots of artisanal independent retailers selling organic rhubarb and fancy beer, blah blah blah.

Their roll-call of “good things” included the ominous words “affordable housing”, but this appears to be anything but. After the presentation, I promptly stuck my hand up and asked them what they actually meant by affordable housing. The answer I got wasn’t satisfactory, so I asked again: “What does your entry-level accommodation cost?” And the very charming man with the lapel-mike coughed apologetically and almost whispered, “£350,000.” At which point I made my excuses and left.

The idea that my daughters can one day get on the property ladder in London is pure fantasy, and they certainly won’t be living in Battersea, or indeed anywhere near it.

 

Back in fashion

Last Thursday, Theresa May hosted her first reception at Downing Street for the British fashion industry, an event that usually takes place twice a year, and which is attended by fashion designers, industry figures, newspaper and magazine editors and the like. ­Samantha Cameron was always a significant supporter of the sector (which contributes more to the country’s GDP than the car industry), as was Sarah Brown before her, and it is instructive that May has decided to follow in their footsteps.

It’s also telling that Mrs Cameron was not only invited to the event at No 10 but turned up, which says a lot about both women. Theresa May is a fundamentally shy person, yet she not only made a pitch-perfect speech in front of a Brexit-sensitive (and quite possibly suspicious) crowd, but chose to embrace the opportunity to espouse the growing importance of an industry that was so closely associated with the wife of her predecessor. There is such a lot of noise at the moment surrounding the PM’s apparent lack of interest in remaining on good terms with David Cameron, so one wonders what, if anything, is going on here. Taken at face value, May’s move at the reception was extremely classy.

 

The spying game

The following day I found myself in Cheltenham for a five-hour briefing on counterterrorism, cyber-defence, drug smuggling and child kidnapping at GCHQ.

I had expected the place to be like the Foreign Office, but it’s actually more like Google, Apple or Nike, and feels as though it could easily be a campus on America’s “Left Coast”.

There is an incredible sense of purpose at GCHQ, a feeling that they are all working for the common good, and frankly I found it infectious. While the denizens of Silicon Valley might be very adept at pushing the frontiers of consumerism, designing training shoes, telephones and algorithms, it felt far more appropriate to be spending time with men and women obsessed with making the world safer.

Dylan Jones is the editor-in-chief of GQ and a trustee of the Hay Festival

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times