Lez Miserable: "I’ve never been turned on by a vagina picture from a stranger"

Perhaps mystery is overrated - the LGBT sexting/Snapchat instant sexual gratification craze can only lead to more gay sex, which can only be a good thing.

“Where would you even put that?” I ask my gay guy friend, Flossy.

I’m gazing at a penis that wouldn’t be too badly dwarfed by a Pringles tube. Another friend, The Austrian, Germanic logician that she is, always refers to erect penises as “erected”. And this one looks as if it has been, like a gazebo. Thankfully, I’m not looking at it in person; it’s just a daunting collection of pixels on Flossy’s phone. I have so many questions.

“Does that, you know. . . turn you on?”

“Yeah, sort of,” he says.

“Did he send you a picture of his face as well?”

“Of course.”

Flossy swipes to a picture of a glistening, tanned Adonis with, I shit you not, a 70s porn moustache. He “met” this guy on Grindr, a smart phone app that gay men use to hook up and/or exchange photographs of their fluffed manhood. I can’t help being transfixed by penises. I have a similarly visceral emotional response to seeing a cock as I do to, say, seeing a blackhead being squeezed. It’s repulsive, but strangely compelling. Earlier this summer, I was in Central London at the same time as the Naked Bike Ride. I stood in Trafalgar Square, hypnotised by a thousand willies waving in the breeze like a rude cornfield. Although cornfield suggests uniformity. The variations in shape and size were astonishing; great, pendulous cucumbers, to short, fat chilli peppers. Maybe more of an unholy salad than a rude cornfield. So mystified was I by my first experience of mass public nudity, that I retrospectively refer to it as The Day of A Thousand Schlongs.

“Don’t women send each other fanny pics?” Flossy asks.

I have to think for a bit.

“Yeah, sometimes, but it’s quite rare.”

There are lesbian versions of Grindr (namely Brenda and Dattch) but I’ve never used them. My friends who do have never mentioned anything about genital snaps. And, in my experience of internet dating, women tend not to be so forthcoming with their junk (at least when it comes to messaging people they’ve never met). When Chatroulette first started a few years ago, I remember going onto it with my housemates one evening. After what seemed like hours of clicking through men doing things to their knobs, a vagina appeared. I screamed. It was just so unexpected. But girls have sent me pictures of their vaginas through online dating sites. In fact, in terms of sexual frankness, I went through an anomalous period where I was getting regular messages from women who were openly into everything from golden showers to cannibalism.

“Do you like it?” asks Flossy, re: receiving vag pics.  

Again, I have to give the question some consideration. I’ve never been turned on by a vagina picture from a stranger. But I suppose, in principle, I could be. It would depend on a lot of factors. Obviously, a picture of private parts belonging to someone I found very attractive would have some appeal. Then again, where’s the mystery? Seeing someone’s vagina before you sleep with them is a bit like sitting on top of a pile of prematurely and secretly opened Christmas presents, letting out a big sigh and not knowing what to do next.

“Hmm. Not especially,” I say.

The LGBT community has entered into the sexting/Snapchat instant sexual gratification craze with great zest. The way I see it, the more avenues for gay sex, the better. If this means firing off pictures of our genitalia into the digital ether, like rounds of AK-47 bullets, then so be it. Perhaps mystery is overrated.

It’s just so abstract though – a faceless picture of someone’s genitals. I don’t love women purely because they have vaginas, in the same way that I don’t find men sexually uninteresting just because they have penises. I’ve been asked a few times if I’m “scared” of penises. I’m not. I don’t like them very much, but I’d say that my relationship with them is complicated. For example, I’m not averse to sex with strap-ons. My sexuality isn’t about reducing people to their genitals. And sure, I like vaginas a lot, but I like the people attached to them more.

“So, have you ever sent anyone a picture of your minge?” asks Flossy.

This, however, I don’t have to think about.

“Oh God, no.”


Sexting looks a lot like this. Photo: Getty

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

Richard Burden
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The warnings Bosnian gravestones carry for us in 2016

Xenophobia does not usually lead to Srebrenica. But it can do.

Two weeks ago, I joined a visit to Bosnia organised by Remember Srebrenica. If you have ever seen one of the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Northern France, you will have a sense of what the cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, is like. Row upon row of identical white headstones stretching into the distance. Whereas in France, of course, most of the headstones are marked by the cross, in Potocari they are white obelisks. Overwhelmingly, they mark the graves of Muslims.

In the 1990s, the old battery factory of Potocari was the headquarters of Dutch troops. They had been deployed to uphold the United Nations designation of the enclave as a safe area. Their presence, however, did not stop Serb troops from rounding up around 25,000 people sheltering at the base in July 1995. Once the UN troops stood aside, families were divided. Most of the women and children were loaded and sent west to areas of the country still controlled by the Bosnian government. The men and boys were loaded on to separate trucks. Within days, most of them were systematically shot.

Many other men and boys had already taken to the woods to escape, only to face shells, snipers and ambush on the way. Some, like 19-year-old Hasan Hasanovic, made it through to free territory around Tuzla. Many did not. Those did not die in the woods were either persuaded to give themselves up, or were captured. Like the men and boys who had been taken from outside the UN base at Potocari, most simply disappeared. To this day, their bones are still being found in or near mass graves in eastern Bosnia.

And so, 21 years on, I met Hasan at Potocari. July1995 was the last time he saw his twin brother Hussein, his father Aziz or his uncle, Hasan.

The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described the Srebrenica massacre as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. Indeed, the word massacre doesn’t convey the enormity of what happened. Earlier this year, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found 1990s Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guilty of involvement in genocide. The verdict in the trial of military leader Ratko Mladic is expected later this year.

Nobody who visits Potocari can fail to be moved by what you see there. For me, it brought back memories of how, as a new MP back in the 1990s, I was one of those calling for more assertive international action to stop the carnage that was unfolding in Bosnia. It was an unfamiliar position to find myself in. All my political life until that point, I had been amongst those opposing involvement in military action abroad. Now I found myself supporting intervention. For three years before the Srebrenica genocide, people in Sarajevo had been starved of food, medicines and even the means to defend themselves as their city was remorselessly pounded from the hills that surround it. We knew it. We could see it on TV. We also saw that neither Europe nor NATO nor the UN were taking action that could have stopped it.

There were always so many geopolitical reasons not to intervene effectively. I heard them day after day from Ministers in the House of Commons. But that did not help the men, women and children who were dying in Sarajevo, and in 1995 it did not save Hasan’s twin brother, his father, his uncle or the 8,000 others who ended up in the mass graves around Srebrenica.

Since I have returned from Bosnia, two things keep dominating my thinking. The first is about Syria. The political circumstances that have led to the destruction of Aleppo today are not the same as those facing Sarajevo in the 1990s. For people trapped there though, the parallels must feel much more real than the differences. I don’t claim to have an off-the-shelf action plan for what the international community should do today any more than anyone else does. I just keep thinking how in twenty years’ time, people visiting Aleppo - hopefully reconstructed as Sarajevo has been today - will ask: “How could the world have let this happen in 2016?” What will be our answer?

The other thing that dominates my thoughts is that the genocide in Bosnia hit people like me. A man I met, who unexpectedly found himself becoming a soldier in 1992, told me how, before the war, he wore a t-shirt, jeans and an earring. On a good day, he would to listen to the Ramones. On a bad day, it would be the Sex Pistols. I am a bit older than him, but this was still my generation. And it happened In Europe.

What is more, the murders and the ethnic cleansing were not committed by strangers. So often, they were committed by neighbours. These were normal people who had been whipped up to dehumanise those who they were told were “different”. They were told that their way of life was under threat. They internalised it. They believed it. And, down the line, they no longer needed persuading it was “them or us”.

Most of the time, xenophobia does not lead to the horrors that have scarred Srebrenica forever. But it can do. That a lesson for all of us must never forget. So next time you hear someone talking about people living either down the road or across the sea being "them" not "us", don't shrug and walk away. Speak up and speak out instead.

Richard Burden is Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield and a Shadow Transport Minister. He visited Bosnia with the Remembering Srebrenica charity in October 2016. You can find out more about the Remembering Srebrenica charity here.

Richard Burden is MP for Birmingham Northfield. Follow him on Twitter @RichardBurdenMP.