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.