Monthly Archives: January 2020

Why Are Your Friends Calling Hot Guys Daddy?

It’s a dilemma for some of us…do we fight against the “Daddy” label, or just give in and accept it? I think I garner more attention from younger guys these days than I ever did when I was on the scene…despite being a youngster who preferred to have liaisons with older guys. Even up to a week ago I received a message on Instagram from a younger…dare I say in his 30s…very good looking English guy, suggesting that if I was after a “sugar babe” to hit him up! I should point out that I don’t have the financial cred to be a Sugar Daddy…but I can’t say I wasn’t flattered! I was! I have spent the last 15 years fighting off the label of “Daddy”, but now find myself questioning why! I think the problem has always been the way gay Daddies are promoted – both in the media, and in movies. Usually older men who are financially independent, and have the money to fulfil the whims of the young guys in their company. However, a bit of reading on the subject dispels that myth. Yes, there are young guys out there who partner with older guys for financial reasons, but there are equally a number of guys who do it for less material reasons…they find the company of older men more stimulating than guys in their own peer group, often for intellectual reasons; they prefer the experiences of older guys, both sexually and emotionally; or they just prefer older guys…full stop. Having now come to the realisation that it’s not all about money, I’m thinking that…provided they are not after financial support (fuck knows it’s difficult enough to support ones self on a pension), I should embrace my inner Daddy. After all, aren’t the emotional and sexually experienced traits of older guys the reason I used to chase them!

It’s my job to write about celebrities from 9 to 5, and when a hot male steps out, I’m the first to call him “Daddy.” Usually, I’ll chat my friend and co-worker Erin with links to photos of hot guys, with comments like this:

“Doesn’t Kanye look like such a daddy in his Yeezys?”

“Gerard Butler could literally ask me to tie his shoes and I’d do it.”

“Ryan Gosling is an actual father but wow, what a daddy.”

“Drake is such a dad.”

She tends to agree, and often, we’ll debate over the exact qualifications of what gives a dude “Daddy” status. It’s a funny game that keeps us entertained. But where exactly does this term stem from? And why have empowered women suddenly picked it up as a phrase to toss around?

From my perspective as a homosexual male, use of the term “daddy” in gay culture, where it’s specifically popular, boils down to your sexual preferences. “Bottoms,” the label for generally submissive types in bed, if they’re so inclined, call their dominant partners, labeled “tops,” “daddy.” It outlines the power dynamics of the sexual relationship and boils down to sex.

Outside of gay culture, however, I’ve noticed pop culture has adopted the term too. Issa Rae’s lead character on Insecure throws the term around, and in 2017, “daddy” has seemingly morphed into “zaddy,” another version of the term that essentially has the same meaning.

According to Urban Dictionary, guys considered “zaddy” basically have the “It” factor. They’re stylish. They’re perceived as cool. They have their s— together. And obviously they’re hot. Typically, they’re rich. Ty Dolla $ign has a song called “Zaddy” in which he boasts about women flocking to him for his wealth and his ability to provide them with a better, more opulent lifestyle.

Zayn Malik often comes to mind when we think of “Zaddy” because fans have used the term to call him sexy on social media. The first letter of his name is “Z,” like, you know, “Zaddy,” so there’s that, too. As to why people pick up the slang word in instances when they’re not talking about the singer? I’m not so sure, and I’m not so sure it matters. It’s simply a way of labeling a man as attractive and automatically giving him the dominant role in the relationship.

The term “dad” is also used popularly, and it essentially equates to the same as “zaddy” or “daddy.”

But does the use of this term have anything to do with actual fathers? Not really. While some women may refer to their biological fathers as “daddy,” the use of the term in this particular instance has nothing to do with kinship. Most of my friends, at least, are uncomfortable with the term. “Ew, I’d never call a guy daddy. It reminds me of my dad,” friends tell me.

Designer Rachel Antonoff created a white shirt labeled with “daddy” on the front for her fall collection. Why? “I had wanted to do a shirt that said, ‘No more daddy-daughter dance’ just because, from the perspective of it being really heteronormative,” she says. “Then we changed it to daddy-daughter dance, and then we just shortened it to ‘daddy.’ It sort of had a weird little journey that actually had nothing to do with current pop culture.”

“On some level, there’s an element of creepy factor, like it’s just a gross word for some reason, and the idea of someone actually referring to their father as such, even though many people do, but it still is funny to me, which I think is part of why we were so amused by the idea of the daddy-daughter dance in the first place,” she added. “I think there’s an element of humor to it, to just tossing that word out there.”

I agree.

But still, where the hell does this term come from, and why is it so polarizing?

A Reddit thread from two years ago proves that most of us have no idea why we’re using this, yet we still are. In the thread, a tweet Lorde shared about Kim Kardashian was referenced to try to offer an explanation.

“I retweeted Kim’s amazing cover and wrote ‘MOM,’ which among the youthz is a compliment; it basically joking means ‘adopt me/be my second mom/I think of you as a mother figure you are so epic,” she wrote after a fan said that doing so wasn’t very feminist of her.

One Redditor chimed in, “The same thing happens with ‘Dad.’ I’m not sure how much is serious, how much is delusional, and how much is it weird daddy issues. You will find a mix of all of these.”

And that, indeed, is true.

Reference

Gay History: Outcry As Secret Gay Life Of Irish Hero Is ‘Proved’

Roger Casement’s notorious Black Diaries are genuine, claims writer

English Photographer, (19th century). Medium: black and white photograph. Date: 19th Century. Roger Casement (1864-1916) Irish nationalist and revolutionary; Edward James Glave (1863-95) journalist and explorer; William Georges Parminter (d.1894); Herbert Ward (1863-1919) English sculptor; all of them travelled in Africa and especially the Congo and protested about human rights there; social justice; investigating human rights abuses; Provenance: Private Collection.

Since his execution at Pentonville prison, London, 83 years ago next week**, Sir Roger Casement has been at the centre of a historical controversy involving spies, treason and homosexuality.

Now fresh evidence has been unearthed suggesting that Casement’s so-called Black Diaries, detailing the Irish nationalist leader’s promiscuous homosexual affairs, were in fact genuine.

A Belfast-based writer has discovered a new letter, written only days before Casement died on the gallows, which he claims confirms the existence of a mysterious homosexual lover, alluded to in the Black Diaries as Millar.

The revelation is bound to provoke outrage among nationalist historians, who regard the allegations as slurs conjured up by British intelligence during the Irish war of independence.

The Casement controversy remains so powerful that Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, ordered an investigation earlier this year into the authenticity of the diaries.

The Millar letter was written by an MI5 agent to the Home Office four days before Casement was hanged for treason. It was uncovered in the Public Record Office at Kew in London earlier this year by Jeff Dudgeon, an Ulster gay activist who sued the British Government in the European Court of Human Rights 20 years ago over discrimination against gays in Northern Ireland.

Dudgeon points out that in the Black Diaries of 1910-11, Casement allegedly makes a number of references to having sex with Millar. On 8 August, for instance, Casement is supposed to have written: ‘Leaving for Belfast. To sleep with Millar. In at once.’ Three days earlier Casement supposedly wrote: ‘Letter from Millar. Good on for Tuesday. Hurrah! Expecting!’ The diary entries also include references to the two men spending the night together on the day the Titanic sunk.

The agent who wrote the Millar memo, Frank Hall, discovered that Millar was Joseph Millar Gordon, a 26-year-old employee of the Belfast Bank in Donegall Square.

Hall tells his boss, Sir Ernley Blackwell, the chief legal adviser to the Home Office, that he was able to track Casement’s lover down via a motorbike which he bought for Millar for £25.

Hall noted that Millar Gordon lived alone with his mother at Carnstroan, a large Victorian house in Myrtlefield Park in south Belfast.

Four days after the memo’s postmark, Casement was hanged for his part in enlisting German military support for the 1916 Easter Rising.

At least five members of the British war Cabinet, including Home Secretary Herbert Samuel, had known Casement personally when he worked for the Foreign Office. Casement had investigated allegations of slavery and human rights abuses in the Congo and Peru on behalf of the British Government.

Dudgeon points out that the memo, which was only made available to the public at the end of 1998, was secret and would not have been used at the time in the propaganda campaign against the Irish republican icon.

‘Why would the British forge an internal MI5 memo? This letter puts flesh on the bones of the Millar referred to in the diaries. Nobody could have invented him, because he is so well documented. He was a living person from Belfast whom I believe definitely had a relationship with Casement,’ he said.

Dudgeon denied that being a gay unionist has coloured his year-long research programme into the Casement diaries. ‘I came to this subject with an open mind. It has to be said that the diaries, as well as being an important part of Irish history, are also a vital part of gay history in the twentieth century. They are the only body of written evidence of intense gay sexual detail from this time.’

However, Angus Mitchell, author of the most recent book on Casement, insists the Black Diaries are forgeries. Mitchell, who published The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement in 1997, said: ‘You should remember that the diaries came out of the Home Office, too. The diaries are forgeries, of that I have no doubt. So what if there really was a Millar? There are hundreds of others referred to in the diaries who Casement describes and who can be traced as well. It proves nothing.’

Eoin Neeson, the author of a recent book on 300 years of republicanism, Birth of a Republic, claims: ‘No one who knew him believed the allegations and [they] are unanimous about his extremely high sense of moral integrity… The virtual impossibility of his practising the gross degeneracies at all, let alone with the frequency alleged, is demonstrable.’

Dudgeon, who is writing a book based on his research, promises to reveal more material which he claims will prove that subsequent Irish governments covered up evidence to support the authenticity of the diaries.

Millar Gordon, the alleged lover, died in Dublin in 1956, three years before the diaries were first published.

Irish Legal Heritage: Hanged by a comma

Irish revolutionary Roger Casement, the ‘father of 20th-century human rights investigations’, was knighted in 1911 for his investigations into human rights abuses in the Congo and Peru while he worked a British Consul.

An Irish Republican, Casement went to Germany in 1914 in an effort to secure German military support for Irish independence. However, suspicious of the Germans toying with him when they provided significantly fewer arms than they promised, Casement left for Ireland in April 1916 with the hope that he could convince Eoin McNeill to call off the Easter Rising.

Casement travelled to Kerry in a German submarine, but had been suffering from malaria that he had contracted while working in the Congo and was too weak to travel further than a few miles from the coast. Three days before the beginning of the Easter Rising, Casement was arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary at a site now known as Casement’s Fort near Tralee.

Casement was brought to London where he was tried in the High Court for high treason, contrary to the Treason Act 1351. Since the crimes he was accused of had occurred in Germany, much of Casement’s case hinged on statutory interpretation of the Treason Act 1351, which had been translated from Norman French to state: ‘if a do man levy War against our Lord the King in his Realm, or be adherent to the King’s enemies in his Realm, giving to them aid and comfort in the Realm, or elsewhere, and thereof be probably attainted of open deed’.

It was argued that this meant that the offence of treason included levying war against the king in his realm, or supporting the king’s enemies (located in the Realm, or elsewhere) by giving them ‘aid and comfort’ in the realm.

However, the Court omitted the comma after ‘Realm, or elsewhere’, and interpreted the statute to include a third offence of giving aid and comfort to the King’s enemies outside Britain.

As such, Casement was sentenced to death by hanging after being found guilty of ‘High treason by adhering to the King’s enemies elsewhere than in the King’s realm to wit, in the Empire of Germany, contrary to the Treason Act, 1351’.

** The article is from 1999.

Reference

“Names” Poem, From The Gay Movie “Beautiful Something”

A “train-of-thought” poem that I found to be both appropriate, and quite beautiful in its emotive power right at the end of a riveting movie.

Chemical names

Burn names

Names of fire and flights of snow

Baby names

Paint names

Delicate names like the bones of the body

Names that nobody has been able to figure out

Names of spells

Names of hexes

Names called out to fill the yard, calling you inside again

Calling you home

Names called out across the water

Names I’ve called you behind your back

Names of flowers that open only once

Shouted from rooftops

Muffled by pillows

Whispered in sleep

We are not traders but the lights go out

His voice on tape

His name on the envelope

The soft sound of a body falling off a bridge behind you

The body hardly makes a sound

All night I stretch my arms across him

Rivers of blood

The dark wood singing with all my skin and bone

Please keep him safe

His lips at my neck

And I do believe his mouth is heaven

His kisses falling all over me like stars

Names of heat

Names of light

Names of collision in the dark on the side of a bus

In the bark of a tree

And a ball point pin* on jeans

And hands on the back of matrix that then get lost

Your name is like a song I sing to myself

Your name is like a box where I keep my love

Your name I can nest in the tree of love

Your name like a boat in the sea of love

For now we are in the sea of love

Your name like a detergent in the washing machine

Your name like two x’s like punched in i’s

To mark the spot

To hold the place

To keep the treasure from becoming ever lost

I’m saying your name in the grocery store

I’m saying your name on a bridge at dawn

Your name like an animal covered with frost

A suit of fur

A coat of mud

A kick in the pants

A lung full of glass

The sail of winds that slap the waves in the hull of a boat

That’s sinking to the sound of mermaids singing songs of love

And the tug of a simple profound sadness when it sounds so far away

We laugh, and it puts the world against us

We laugh and our hearts turn red

The river rises like a barn on fire

It’s a bed of straw, darling

It sure shit is

Say hallelujah, say good night

Say it over the canned music and your feet won’t stumble

His face getting larger

The rest blurring on every side

And angels knocking on your head

A flash in the sky

Here is my hand, my heart, my throat, my wrist

Here are the illuminated cities in the centre of me

And here is the centre of me

Which is a lake, which is a well that we can drink from

I can’t go through with it

I can’t go through with it

I just don’t want to die anymore

* could be “pen”

Gay History: Roger Casement: Gay Irish Martyr or Victim of a British Forgery?

A century since he was executed, the story of Irish rebel Sir Roger Casement remains controversial due to the Black Diaries – either a genuine chronicle of his sexual history or a forgery by British officials to discredit him. Two biographers have set out to settle Casement’s case once and for all

Undated library file photo of Sir Roger Casement. Photograph: PA

hanged man was never more popular. One hundred years ago, the British government executed Roger Casement for his participation in a rebellion in Ireland, the Easter Rising of 1916. This year, schoolchildren and tourists by the thousands have visited Casement’s gravesite in Dublin. It is part of a centennial pilgrimage in honour of the Rising, the pivotal event in modern Irish history, marked by headstones, prisons, and rebel redoubts now hard to imagine in jostling traffic. As the First World War raged across Europe, Irish men and women joined the Rising in an attempt to break from a United Kingdom that had bound Ireland for 115 years. In fighting to establish an Irish republic, they battled not just the British government; they also faced the prospect of a civil war against Irish Protestant unionists in the northern province of Ulster who had already spent three years arming themselves against the prospect of political domination by Ireland’s Catholic majority. In the aftermath of the Rising, the British government executed 16 rebel leaders, including Casement. He was hanged and buried on August 3 in the yard of Pentonville Prison in London, England, a land and sea away from his current resting place.

Casement, the last man to be executed, was the first among traitors in the eyes of British officials. Many knew of Casement, an Irish Protestant born outside of Dublin, for his years of work as a Foreign Office official in Africa and South America. This was the Casement who had held a memorial service in a mission church in the Congo Free State in 1901 to commemorate the passing of Queen Victoria; the Casement who was knighted by Victoria’s grandson King George V in 1911 for his humanitarian campaigns on behalf of indigenous peoples on two continents; the Casement who retired from the Foreign Office in 1913 on a comfortable pension that financed his turn to rebellion.

An undated portrait of Sir Roger Casement. Photograph: Courtesy National Library of Ireland

Just over half a century ago, in 1965, Casement’s remains were reinterred, following a state funeral, in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. This traitor to the British crown and martyr for the Republic of Ireland remains a memory in motion, stirred by an unforeseen combination of circumstances. The achievement of legal equality for gays in Ireland in 2015, together with the United Kingdom’s recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union, may occasion a new life after death for Casement — as the symbol of a united Ireland. It is the role he had hoped to play even as the trapdoor opened beneath his feet.

Since his adolescence, Casement had been an Irish nationalist of the poetic variety. But his politics hardened after his experiences in the Congo Free State persuaded him that the Congolese and Irish peoples had suffered similar injustices, both having lost their lands to imperial conquest. Like many Irish nationalists, Casement turned to militancy in the years before the First World War, angered both by unionists arming themselves and London’s failure to act upon parliamentary legislation for “home rule,” which would have granted the Irish a measure of sovereign autonomy. In 1914, Casement crossed enemy lines into Germany. There, he attempted to recruit Irish prisoners of war to fight against their former British commanders and sought to secure arms from the Kaiser for a revolution in Ireland itself. Two years later — less than a week before the Rising began — Casement was arrested after coming ashore on the southwest coast of Ireland from a submarine bearing German weapons and ammunition. He was sent to London to be interrogated and tried for treason.

 

As the government reasoned, how could any right-thinking person defend a sodomist?

These days, Casement is chiefly known as the alleged author of the so-called Black Diaries, which are at the center of a long-standing controversy over his sexuality. As Casement awaited execution in London, supporters in the United Kingdom and the United States lobbied the British government to commute his sentence. In response, British officials began to circulate pages from diaries, purportedly written by Casement in 1903, 1910 and 1911, which chronicled in explicit terms his sexual relations with men. Among mundane daily entries are breathless, raunchy notes on Casement’s trysts and, often, the dimensions of his sexual partners. An excerpt from February 28, 1910, Brazil: “Deep screw to hilt … Rua do Hospicio, 3$ only fine room. Shut window. Lovely, young — 18 & glorious. Biggest since Lisbon July 1904 … Perfectly huge.” UK law forbade any sexual relations between men, so, the government reasoned, how could any right-thinking person defend a sodomist? The diaries served to weaken support for clemency for Casement. In the aftermath of his execution a decades-long debate over the authenticity of the diaries ensued.

The leading participants in the debate are two biographers: Jeffrey Dudgeon, who believes that the diaries are genuine and that Casement was a homosexual, and Angus Mitchell, who thinks that the diaries were forged and that Casement’s sexual orientation remains an open question. The stakes of this debate were once greater than they are today. As the debate over the Black Diaries gathered momentum in the 1950s and reached a crisis point in the run-up to the repatriation of Casement’s remains to Ireland in the 1960s, Ireland was both more Catholic in its culture and less assured of its sovereign authority than it is today. The southern 26 counties of Ireland declared themselves the Republic of Ireland in 1949, but the British government continued to treat the Republic as a subordinate member of the Commonwealth, rather than a full-fledged European state, until 1968. In that year, responsibility for British relations with the Republic was assigned to the Western European Department of the newly amalgamated Foreign and Commonwealth Relations Office. Six of the counties of the province of Ulster have remained in the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland, riven by sectarian tension that the Republic and Britain have only ever brought to a stalemate. It is telling that the Irish government has been content to leave the diaries in the British National Archives rather than demand ownership and become accountable for their authenticity.

Casement’s path to political redemption was laid by the Gay Liberation movement. Dudgeon is not just a biographer but a protagonist in one of the movement’s crucial battles. In 1981, he challenged Northern Ireland’s criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adult men in a case against the United Kingdom brought before the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that the law at issue violated the European Convention of Human Rights, and this decision prompted the British government in 1982 to issue an Order in Council that decriminalised homosexual acts between adult men in Northern Ireland; England, Wales, and Scotland had already passed similar laws. In 1993 the Irish parliament to the south also decriminalised male homosexuality in order to bring the Republic’s law into compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights. And in 2015, the Republic became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. The broader campaign for LGBT rights in Ireland has kept Casement much in the news and proudly represented him as a national son and father.

In their biographies, Dudgeon and Mitchell present two Casements, each with strengths and weaknesses. Dudgeon offers meticulous, well-documented detail, but his book, Roger Casement: The Black Diaries, is for insiders, reading at many points like the notes for a doctoral dissertation, without consistent chronological structure or contextual explanation for those unfamiliar with Irish history in general and Casement in particular. Mitchell likewise offers meticulous documentary evidence in Roger Casement, but within a comparatively fluid and clear narrative history that depends problematically upon his assertion that the British government, from the Cabinet to the National Archive, has pursued an insidious, sweeping policy of individual defamation over the past century.

Were the Black Diaries forged? And if so, was it the work of the British government, seeking to destroy Casement for his betrayal and to deny Ireland a heroic martyr? It must be said that Dudgeon and Mitchell both magnify Casement out of proportion to his significance as a threat to the United Kingdom, a state that was attempting to survive a war on multiple fronts, with flagging morale at home, in 1916. The government had larger fish to fry than this man who never founded or led a political party, never engaged in assassination or led men into combat, and never wrote a popular manifesto or treatise. Moreover, as Dudgeon argues, it would have been a monumental, virtually impossible task in 1916 for officials and civil servants to forge diaries so comprehensive in their account of long-past events — when Casement was not under suspicion — that they could convince even Casement’s associates, who found themselves and their own interactions with Casement mentioned in the text. In a fascinating turn, Dudgeon offers the most successful refutation of forgery to date by systematically verifying the diaries’ contents, relentlessly revealing and cross-referencing new sources to pull together loose ends and flesh out identities from cryptic references and last names, such as that of Casement’s alleged boyfriend: “Millar.” Against the historical backdrop of a government marshalling limited resources in wartime, Dudgeon effectively charges that a forgery so verifiably true to life could not have been a forgery. He is probably correct.

Yet to travel further down this historical rabbit hole risks missing what is most significant about Casement at present: his potential reinvention as a symbol of Irish unity in the future. Casement has been resuscitated by an extraordinary combination of developments in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, not just the relative toleration of homosexuality, but the lurch toward Brexit in a popular referendum that found 52% of UK voters in favour and 48% opposed. The decisive support for Brexit was located in England and Wales, while both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, the latter by 55.8% to 44.2%. The Republic of Ireland and the UK have long agreed that the political division of Ireland will continue until the majority of Northern Ireland’s citizens vote to sanction secession. Even as Northern Ireland has moved steadily toward a Catholic majority (most of whom support secession), there is still a sizeable minority of Catholics who prefer continued union with Britain in the name of economic and political stability. After the Brexit vote, the disparate communities of Northern Ireland — Protestants and Catholics of all political stripes — may find new common ground in, of all places, Europe. Northern Ireland, like the Republic, benefits substantially from its relationship with the EU, and nationalists and unionists alike are worried about the loss of EU subsidies and markets.

Irish President Eamon de Valera speaking at the funeral of Irish nationalist Roger Casement at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, 2nd March 1965. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

In the days preceding his execution, Casement asked his family to bury his body near the home of relatives in County Antrim, in what is now Northern Ireland. This was the family that had taken young Roger in after an itinerant childhood and the deaths of his parents. “Take my body back with you and let it lie in the old churchyard in Murlough Bay,” he reportedly stated. Casement’s reinternment at Glasnevin Cemetery was, in fact, a compromise. In 1965 neither the Irish nor the UK governments wished to antagonise Ulster unionists with the burial of a republican martyr in their midst. Among the many tributes laid at Casement’s grave following his burial in Glasnevin was a sod of turf from the high headland over Murlough Bay.

The transfer of Casement’s remains from Pentonville to Glasnevin was conceived by the Irish and UK governments as a symbolic gesture of goodwill that would set the political stage for the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement of 1965. The governments turned to each other for economic support because France had frustrated their attempts to gain entrance into the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor organisation of the EU. When both countries joined the EEC in 1973, this trade agreement lapsed. Once more, then, with Brexit, Casement’s bones have been stirred by Anglo-Irish relations with Europe. In Ireland, the effects are likely to be much different this time around. In representing Casement as a man of contradictions, biographers have assessed him in the terms of conflicts in Irish society that persisted long after his death: the sectarian divide between Protestants and Catholics, the troubles between Ireland and Britain, and the discrimination against male homosexuals enforced by religion and law. As these conflicts dissipate, Casement will be recast in a new light. The portrait of a man of contradictions will give way to a composite picture in which the majority of the people of Ireland may see themselves. Should Ireland reunite, whether in the aftermath of Brexit or in a more distant time, the moment of reconciliation, of acceptance and forgiveness, may well occur over a grave at Murlough Bay.

Reference

The Beatles Song Named For A Woman That Was About A Man

Sexy Sadie…

The Beatles were famous for their beautiful, inspired love songs dedicated to women- “Michelle”, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Julia”, “Lovely Rita”, “Lady Madonna”, “Dear Prudence”.  Even other Beatles’ classics, not graced with titles using proper nouns: “She Loves You”, “She’s a Woman”, “Girl”; and of course “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “Love Me Do”, “P.S. I Love You” et al were all written about and centered around different women who had touched the Beatles in different ways (sometimes literally).

But which Beatles song sounds like it was written about a woman, but was in reality, written about a man?  In 1968, the Beatles were on a quest, searching, just like many of us- to find “The Truth”.  Yes, they were rich, famous, and materially successful beyond any of their wildest dreams.  But they all- especially George and John- felt something was missing.

The Beatles, in their search, came upon an interesting spiritual guide named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  They traveled to his meditation camp in Rishikesh, India to study, meditate, and hopefully “become enlightened”.

The fab four arrived and spent their days at the Maharishi’s retreat, with their respective wives, girlfriends, pals, and entourage.  After a pleasant start, the Beatles’ spiritual revival stay at Rishikesh started to unravel.  Ringo left first; after only ten days, he packed his bags and declared he’d had enough (Ringo’s excuse cited missing his children in London, plus the fact that his wife, Maureen, hated the prevalence of insects in their bungalow).  Paul lasted a few days longer and departed, leaving John and George- the most sincerely hopeful to find “the answer” at the Ashram.

George and John remained for several more weeks, each meditating several hours a day.  But a rumor, supposedly started and spread by John’s friend “Magic Alex” Mardas, filtered through to the Beatles’ camp.  (“Magic Alex” was a would-be-inventor and full-time hanger-on (i.e. parasite) of the Beatles and was accompanying the boys at the retreat).  According to Magic Alex’s salacious rumor, the holy Maharishi had made an overt pass at one or more of the pretty girls studying there.  (Different sources cite the anonymous girl as being either Mia Farrow, her sister Prudence Farrow, or another cute short-haired blonde bombshell at the camp).

John Lennon- impulsive, quick-tempered, and trusting of his pal, Magic Alex- immediately rounded up his wife and friends and decided to leave.  It was John who confronted the surprised guru, the Maharishi, and told him they were all hitting the road.  “But why are you leaving?” Maharishi asked.

“If you’re so cosmic, you’ll know!” Lennon spat.  According to John, the Maharishi shot him a look of daggers at that point and John immediately knew he was a fake and a fraud.  And, thus, John, George, their respective wives and their retinue peremptorily left India.

Upon arriving back in England, John unwrapped the final song he had written while in India- a disillusioned, angry song called “Maharishi”.  Lennon supposedly scratched out the original lyrics on a piece of wood at the London apple offices.  (Ringo’s wife, Maureen, actually owned the piece of wood John carved the song on. She later sold the carved, seminal “Maharishi” song to a Beatles collector years later.)

The original lyrics were incredibly cruel and vile, as Paul remembers John first playing the tune for him.  “Who the f**k do you think you are?” was about the mildest of the original lyrics.

John’s song referred to the Maharishi in the worst possible sexual epithets.  It was George who advised John to tone the song down and change the title from “Maharishi” to “Sexy Sadie”.  (For legal reasons, but also, George was not as upset or disillusioned as John. After initially leaving the camp with John, George returned to India for a few more weeks of meditation, peace, and quiet).

When “Sexy Sadie” was recorded over four sessions in July and August of ’68, John spent much of the time cursing and sputtering about the whole Maharishi experience, still deeply hurt and disillusioned.

“Sexy Sadie” was to appear in a few months on the Beatles’ legendary “White Album” later in 1968.  The finished song is a very nice one, like most of John Lennon’s brilliant body of work.  And to this day, I am sure many uneducated listeners assume “Sexy Sadie” was written about a sexy, unscrupulous woman who took the writer and other men for a ride and used them.  The truth is that it was written as an angry, hostile “homage” to a short, bearded, gray-haired Indian guru.

But why did John so wholeheartedly and immediately believe Magic Alex’s gossip and story about the Maharishi?  After all, Paul, George, and John’s wife, Cynthia, were all to later state that the story was a hoax and was concocted entirely by the nefarious Magic Alex.  And even if the alleged story was true, as Paul was to later say, the Maharishi made no claims to being some god with no carnal desires.  “Don’t treat me like a god. I’m a meditation teacher” was Paul’s quote from the guru.  “There was no deal that you mustn’t touch women. There wasn’t a vow of chastity involved”, Paul added.

Maybe John just simply bought the malicious accusation, but Beatle scholars offer up a few different views.  One is that John was just bored and tired of being the Maharishi’s disciple and wanted to return to England.  As a bit of a stretch, others offer the theory that John even got Magic Alex to cook up the story so he’d have an excuse to blow the Ashram.

But a more accurate and likely theory lies a bit deeper, under the radar screen at the time.  Every day he was at the Maharishi’s camp, John would happily hop to the local post office branch, where he was receiving strange, mysterious letters and postcards from an odd Japanese performance artist named Yoko Ono.

Lennon had met Yoko Ono previously, but these mailings fascinated and intrigued him.  The feminine-scrawled mailings contained enigmatic lines of poetry like, “Look up at the sky and see my face” or “Take your thoughts and dig a hole and bury them.”

These postcards and letters and their “messages” spellbound Lennon and captured his imagination.  He may have been dying to get back to London to give this Yoko Ono a call and get together with her. And this is exactly what happened, almost as soon as John arrived back home.

Cynthia Lennon, John’s wife of six years, was unceremoniously dumped and John cast his lot with Yoko. The Beatles were, after all, just four human beings.  And human beings look for answers- and find them in many different places.

Years later, Paul, George, and Ringo were all to publicly state their gratitude to the Maharishi for what he had given them, and all three were to indulge in the transcendental meditation he had taught them, throughout their lives.  The three Beatles (but not John) were to have only kind words about their old friend and teacher, the Maharishi.  And, ironically, it was in his beloved Yoko Ono that the earnestly searching John Lennon was to find his own particular “truth” in life.

Reference

Gay History: The Hidden Queer History of Paper Dolls

Infinitely adaptable and easy to conceal, these toys were surprisingly appealing to gay men in the 1950s.

Benjamin Frisch

Paper dolls, a vital part of children’s lives and fashion culture for generations, have always been meant to be instructive: to teach young women and girls how to look and behave. But, from the start, they have been used in unexpected ways, by people they weren’t necessarily intended for.

The first mass-produced paper doll was published in London in 1810 and called The History of Little Fanny. It was a morality play told in verse, about Fanny, a vain, well-to-do girl who has a tantrum when she isn’t allowed to wear her favorite dress and then sneaks away from home. She’s robbed of her clothes, and thus of her status, and becomes a beggar—the set came with a beggar outfit. She makes her way back up the social ladder, one paper costume at a time, until she is reunited with her family. The lesson of the book was supposed to be about the dangers of caring too much about clothes, about how obedience is the only thing standing between a woman and total ruin. But playing with Fanny must have demonstrated the exact opposite of that. It showed the fun of fashion and storytelling, the fun of paper dolls. This tension—between what paper dolls are meant to teach and the creative, playful, norm-breaking lessons they can teach instead—followed paper dolls into the 20th century.

By the early 1900s, millions of sets of paper dolls were being sold each year by dozens of different publishers. You could buy them for a few cents at the five and dime, or cut them out of newspapers, comic books, magazines, and advertisements. There were paper dolls of—among other things—little girls, like the incredibly popular Betsy McCall, a perfect avatar of middle-class Eisenhower-era values; brand mascots like Minnie Mouse; and classic film stars like Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, and Carmen Miranda.

Because paper dolls were flat and printable, they were incredibly adaptable to all sorts of formats. There was even a vinyl record made for kids, where the sleeve featured paper dolls you could cut out and dress. One of the songs on the record, “The Paper Family,” by Anne Lloyd and Michael Stewart, has lyrics that describe how an American family ought to behave—as innocently and obediently as paper dolls.

The conformity represented by paper dolls was easy to subvert, because it was so easy to ignore. The virtue of simple toys is that it’s simple to use them any way you please. Paper dolls came with a lot of outfits—often eight to 10 per figure—and if you wanted more, you could just draw one yourself or cut them out of an old catalog. With all these choices, you could mix everything up, you could pair a gown with a bandana, you could pair a nursing outfit with dungarees. In this way, paper dolls were kind of like a Lego kit, a modular toy that was infinitely adaptable. You could even experiment with cross-dressing your doll. Anything you wanted to do, you could do. And this playfulness, this freedom, this is what many queer people loved about paper dolls.

In the world of paper doll publishing, the most famous gay player was Tom Tierney, who almost single-handedly kept paper dolls alive in the 1970s and ’80s—a low point for the popularity of the form. He created more than 400 paper doll books, including one of Pope John Paul II, and even some adult offerings, featuring drag queens, leather-clad bikers, and other atypical paper doll fare. But references to paper dolls show up all over gay culture.

The most fascinating connection we came across while researching this episode of Decoder Ring is also the most mysterious. San Francisco had a gay bar—or, at least, a proto-gay bar—called the Paper Doll, sometimes known as the Paper Doll Club, which was in operation by 1945, perhaps even earlier than that, which was incredibly early for an openly gay space. We don’t know for sure where the name came from, but we have a theory, and it has to do with another paper doll with a queer connection: In the early 1940s, there was a hugely popular song called “Paper Doll,” written by Johnny S. Black and performed by the Mills Brothers. It’s almost totally forgotten now, but it sold more than 11 million copies in its day. (That’s about as many copies as the “Macarena,” the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.,” or Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.”)

The song peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart in 1943 into 1944, so it would have been everywhere around the time the Paper Doll was opening. It seems likely that the song, at least in part, inspired the name of the club—because it has some pretty obvious queer subtext. Besides the oddness of a group of men singing about wanting a paper doll, one line refers to “flirty, flirty guys, with their flirty eyes.”

More generally, the fragility of the paper doll makes them a ready metaphor for gay people in the 1950s and ’60s—and still for some people even today—whose existence was precarious, who were constantly in danger of being found out, losing their jobs and families, and having everything ripped away from them. But paper dolls also suggest something more hopeful—the possibility of transformation.

And that transformation means that they are also a potent symbol for code-switching, of how changing outfits can change how you are perceived and act in different groups and situations. Out in the real world, you might wear the clothes of a lawyer or a sailor, but then when you’re around other gay people, say at the Paper Doll in San Francisco, you can shed that outfit and don something more authentically yourself.

Reference

Gay History: A Gay Martyr Who Ignited A Global Revolution

Biography: Harvey Milk, Lillian Faderman, Yale University Press, €21.99, JP O’ Malley

Sean Penn (left) won a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected politician, in the 2008 film ‘Milk’

On November 18, 1977, Harvey Milk distributed a secret tape recording to a select network of close friends: “To be played only in the event of my death by assassination,” the audio began: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” the statement concluded.

Milk made the recordings shortly after becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public-political office anywhere; when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Just one year later he was murdered by Dan White.

White, a fellow supervisor on San Francisco’s governing body, killed Milk because he claimed the city was being turned into Sodom by men who insisted on flaunting their homosexuality in public.

As historian and scholar of the LGBT movement, Lillian Faderman, explains in the concluding chapter of this concise, yet enormously insightful biography, Milk’s murder immortalised him forever: igniting a nationwide call to action from the LGBT community to demand equality, free from prejudice.

At the last Gay Freedom Day rally he attended before his death, Milk proposed that gay people across America gather in the US capital. On October 14, 1979, the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights had 100,000 people in attendance.

As Faderman notes, support for the LGBT movement grew in numbers over time: the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987 drew 600,000 people; while the third in 1993 attracted close to a million. As of 2016, 43 states across the US have elected at least one LGBT person to their state legislature. And this historic progressive change spread further afield.

Indeed, it’s possible to draw a line from Milk’s death, to Ireland’s progressive move in 2015 to enshrine marriage equality into law for same sex couples; and the subsequent appointment, two years later, of the country’s first openly gay Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

A hopeful, moving, and uplifting read, Faderman’s book tells the story of a man that didn’t fit the typical criteria for a progressive political martyr. Primarily because Milk lacked consistency in his political allegiances: he could play the liberal-pot smoking hippie, just as he could champion right wing conservatism when it suited him.

Faderman subtly hints that the circumstances of Milk’s personal life meant he never felt entirely comfortable in one firmly-rooted set of political ideals.

Essentially because he was living a double life. Born in 1930, into a conservative Jewish family in Long Island, New York, Milk never came out to either of his parents. Both died knowing nothing of his sexual identity.

As a Jew and homosexual, Milk always saw himself as an outsider who had to fight for social acceptance. He often used analogies of Jews being slaughtered in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust remained a pertinent metaphor in Milk’s speeches and editorials. Drawing lessons from European history, Milk claimed that calling any minority group pariahs, criminals, and demons would naturally only end in catastrophe.

Milk lived much of his life in a peripatetic manner: oscillating between New York, Dallas, and California. He took jobs in teaching, acting, on Wall Street and in the navy too, where he briefly served in Korea. But it was in the Castro area of San Francisco where Milk finally laid down roots and began to interact with a burgeoning gay community.

Then in his forties, Milk, along with his partner Scott Smith, opened Castro Camera: a gay camera photo development shop, which also served as a political constituency office, as well as a popular neighbourhood gay hangout spot too.

Faderman continually stresses that Milk was often shunned by certain sections of the gay community in his own lifetime.

Since the Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1969, a large proportion of the gay community across America had become synonymous with radical politics: seeking to overthrow existing social institutions.

Milk, however, was no committed leftist. He simply sought for gay people to be accepted into mainstream society as it presently stood.

Faderman points out that even martyrs have their flaws too: shortly before his death, the US Attorney General authorised that the FBI look into allegations that Milk had tried to divert funds from the Pride Foundation into his own pocket. We also read how Milk’s love life was mired in anguish, abandonment, heartache, and tragedy. One of his long-time partners, Jack Lira, hanged himself in 1977, leaving Milk a rather nasty suicide note.

Faderman’s narrative mixes the personal and the political with great skill; subtly displaying how at a fundamental level, fighting for collective political rights is really just a human yearning for personal happiness, which usually has its roots in compassion. The book is an exemplary testament to how ordinary citizens – with hope in their hearts and relentless ambition – can swing the pendulum of history towards progress and freedom.

Reference

Gay History: Alan Turing: Gay Man who Saved the World yet Died in Disgrace

What do you do to a homosexual mathematician whose code-breaking genius saved the world during World War II? Not figuratively, but actually saved the world from Nazi domination? You put him on trial, of course! You convict him of gross indecency. You force him to choose prison or chemical castration. You strip him of all dignity and hound him until in shame and despair he swallows a cyanide pill and dies.

The story of Alan Turing is one of the most disgraceful episodes of modern civilization. A man who should have been a hero of the free world and idolized next to Einstein and Newton in the history books was instead hounded to death because of religion-inspired homophobia.

In World War II, Alan Turing’s genius at breaking Nazi secret codes was so successful that the Allies could have sunk almost every single U-boat and convoy that left Germany. Turing’s work was so good it was like cheating at cards: if you win every hand, the other players will quickly figure out that the game is rigged. The Allies had to employ all sorts of tricks to hide their success; if you want a fascinating account, I highly recommend Neal Stephenson’s semi-fictional Cryptonomicon, the story of the rise of modern cryptography.

Alan Turing literally saved the world from Nazi domination. Without his work, WWII would have ended very differently. The Nazi regime might have remained undefeated, still in control of Northern Europe and western Asia. The Japanese might have retained control of East Asia. Our world maps would look vastly different today. And even if we’d won the war, without Turing’s work it’s likely that millions more soldiers and civilians would have died in the fight.

And Turing’s work didn’t end with cryptography. Today he’s best known as the inventor of the modern digital computer, the one who laid down the mathematical foundation for all computer science. His name is even enshrined in two of the most important computer-science concepts, the Turing machine and the Turing test.

If Alan Turing hadn’t been homosexual, his name might be a household word like Einstein, Newton and Galileo. What home doesn’t have a computer? If you count the laptops, cell phones, digital TVs, iPods, digital cameras and microwave ovens in your home, I’ll bet you own more than a dozen computing devices. Every one of them works on the principles laid down by Alan Turing during WWII when he was trying to develop a computing machine to break the enemy’s codes even faster.

Turing’s fall from grace came at the hands of the religious commi-bashing right, the British equivalent of America’s McCarthyism. In 1952 a gay lover helped an accomplice rob Turing’s house. During the police investigation, it came out that Turing was a homosexual. He was arrested and convicted of gross indecency, and given a choice of prison or chemical castration. Turing choose castration.

On June 7, 1954, at just forty two years of age, Alan Mathison Turing killed himself by swallowing cyanide. One of the greatest minds in the history of humankind was lost forever, and one of the greatest heroes of World War II died in shame and disgrace.

But the real shame is on the rest of us, not Alan Turing. In spite of his sexual orientation and consequent hardships he must have experienced, he remained a true patriot and mathematician. He put his mind to work to save the very society that persecuted him. It is possible that he changed history and saved more lives than any other single person in the twentieth century.

On September 10, 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally issued a public apology to Turing’s memory:

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

It is stories like Turing’s that keep me writing. It’s easy to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the immoral “morality” of the Bible. It sounds nice to advocate tolerance and respect. But Alan Turing is dead, and the Bible is where it all started.

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No Speedo? Then Don’t Try To Go Swimming In France – Seriously!

A boy — wearing an approved swimsuit — jumps into the public swimming pool in Auxerre, France. Credit: Adeline Sire

If you’ve traveled outside of the US this summer, a foreign language may not have necessarily been the biggest stress factor of the trip. Local customs are often what get us stumped.

Take a trip to the local pool, for example. Seems like an easy and universal-enough activity to not have to jump through the daunting hoops of cultural differences, right? Wrong. It can be an uncomfortable experience.

I am a native of the city of Auxerre, Burgundy, in France. It’s a lovely place of about 35,000 people, rich with medieval history.

It’s small, but it boasts many remarkable historical monuments, including a cathedral and an abbey from the Middle Ages and some ancient churches and chapels. It sits in the middle of the Burgundian hills, known for their excellent wines.

The city has another, more modern attraction that locals are proud of: its phenomenal public pool — or as it’s called there, the Nautical Stadium. It has four indoor heated pools with a jacuzzi, and three outside pools including an Olympic-sized one with a long, swirly slide. It is an extravagantly large — for its town — aquatic facility, built on the green banks of the river Yonne.

People travel from surrounding towns and villages to spend the day there, sunbathe on its beautiful lawns and snack at its eatery, when they are not swimming. You pay a small fee to get a bracelet which gives you access to the facilities. There’s nothing tricky, except for the bathing suit rules.

You see, in most French public pools, there are strict regulations about the kind of bathing suit you can wear, and therefore share with others, in the water.

For illustration: (L) Not approved swimwear. (R) Approved swimwear. Credit: Adeline Sire

Simply put, where hygiene is concerned, your swimsuit cannot be something you could be found wearing outside the pool. That means no trunks, Bermuda shorts, T-shirts or anything that is not strictly meant for swimming.

Auxerre’s pool administrators say they do not want people to drag any dirt on, or under, their summer attire into the pool. So if you are going to join the masses of swimmers — all 2,000 of them on a busy summer day — you’ll have very little cloth covering your own birthday suit.

Where else would you be told to wear something shorter and tighter, no matter your shape? Man, woman or child, you’ll have to wear some form of spandex, something tight, the kind Speedo makes. Something that often leaves nothing to the imagination — and it’s not to everyone’s liking.

If you are caught entering the pool with biking shorts, running shorts or trunks, lifeguards — turned fashion police — will blow the whistle and send you back to the lobby where you will be asked to purchase proper attire. This is where convenient vending machines come in.

In the Auxerre pool lobby, there are machines that vend soft drinks, sandwiches and espressos, and others that dispense anything needed for the pool, from ear plugs, soap, shampoo and goggles, to swimwear.

A vending machine at the public pool in Auxerre, France, dispenses swimsuits. Credit: Adeline Sire

A mannequin in swimming trunks with a big “forbidden” sign around its neck in the pool’s lobby is supposed to illustrate, for unsuspecting tourists, the kind of bathing suit that is acceptable. As a result, looking around, there is a certain repetitiveness to the swimsuit designs worn by men and boys.

There are four different designs in all, perhaps because that is all that is available at the vending machine or at the inexpensive sports store in town.

In the years since those regulations went into effect, I cannot remember hordes of disgruntled tourists getting outraged about this. But occasionally, one gets caught with his pants long (men more than women for obvious reasons) and is not happy about it.

The French have just gotten used to this, but for some visitors, the fact that municipal administrators have the authority to get you dressed to their liking — or un-dressed as the case may be — is completely infuriating. That is one of those unavoidable cultural quirks travelers must contend with in France.

As a resident of the United States, used to the uncompromising French swimsuit rules, it’s always disconcerting to me that anyone would be allowed to walk straight into an American public pool, from the street to the water, fully dressed, trunks over underwear, T-shirt over chest and sometimes with water shoes on.

That could make me love the French “no clothes — just Speedos” rules even more.

But perhaps there are no people on Earth prouder of their public pools than Icelanders. Iceland, where I just spent a few days, is rich with geothermal springs and big cities enjoy naturally heated outdoor pools. Because there are no chemicals in those pools, swimmers are expected to take a meticulous soap-and-scrub shower before entering the pool.

We were told that the rules are strictly enforced everywhere, and so visitors oblige.

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland. Credit: Adeline Sire

This was my experience recently at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa near Reykjavik, where a very polite young staff lady looked on and directed all female visitors to shower in the nude before letting them into the hot spring. No one seemed to object. But then again, people were not told what to wear.

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Gay History: Leigh Bowery

Leigh Bowery and Boy George.

“I will always remember the moment when a pretty faced, slightly chubby blonde boy turned up at the door of The Cha Cha Club wearing a rather hideous blue velvet cape. He told me his name was Leigh Bowery, followed by, “Graham sent me to you.” It was late October 1981.

My friend Graham Parnham had met Leigh at Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World earlier that month. Leigh didn’t know anybody on the club scene in London so Graham had sent him along to my club telling him that I would look after him. “You’ll like him.” Graham had told me, “. . . he’s Australian and a bit bonkers.” Graham was right. I liked him immediately.

Leigh had a generous spirit and sharp wit, was extremely polite and charming. I told him I’d be glad to let him in to the club so long as he promised me that he would never wear that velvet cape again. We laughed, the first of many laughs that we were to have.

It would be two or three years before Leigh started creating looks and dressing in his extraordinary and very outrageous style. Back in 1982 and 83 he wanted to be a fashion designer and would create 1940s inspired pyjama suits for me, Trojan and himself.

He’d make me dresses to wear to the club, shrewdly knowing that they would be photographed aplenty. He’d hand write labels with indelible laundry marker and stitch them into his creations. I would look forward to the Tuesday afternoons when Leigh would arrive with something new to wear out that night.

The world quite rightly remembers Leigh Bowery as the brilliant and unique performance artist that he became. Though we remained friends throughout his life, for me there is a sweetness to remembering our close friendship of those early years and the extraordinary evolution of the pretty faced, slightly chubby blonde boy in the hideous blue velvet cape.

We lost Graham to AIDS in the spring of 1994.

We lost Leigh the same year, on New Year’s Eve.”

— by Scarlett Cannon

Sex, sin and sausages: the debauched brilliance of Leigh Bowery

His shocking shows – featuring births, enemas and vomiting – thrilled and appalled. Two decades after his death, why is the influence of this 80s nightclub legend still so pervasive?

‘He was modern art on legs’ … Leigh Bowery in a jacket he customised. Photograph: Mark Baker/Photoshot/Getty Images

e was painted naked and sprawling by Lucian Freud. He “gave birth” to his own wife on stage, using sausages as an umbilical cord. And he was the star turn in Taboo, perhaps the most debauched nightclub Britain has ever seen, hosting the revelry with his face painted blue, his nose and nipples pierced and his outfit as intimidatingly outlandish as possible. But there was much more to Leigh Bowery than sheer outrageousness – and his range, daring and influence are now starting to be appreciated by a new generation.

Perhaps the most prominent sign of this reappraisal comes from Australian choreographer Andy Howitt, who is bringing Sunshine Boy, a new show about the nightlife legend, to the Edinburgh fringe this summer. “I was at the National Gallery in Melbourne and there was a big sculpture that said, ‘By Leigh Bowery from Sunshine’,” he says. “I was like, ‘That can’t be the Leigh Bowery from the 80s dance scene.’ It sparked me on a journey to find out about the man.”

Bowery did indeed hail from Sunshine, a suburb of Melbourne with around 10,000 inhabitants. Howitt visited it and spoke to his family, as well as to those in London who had known him. “You have to remember his backstory,” says Howitt. “He only lived in London for 14 years. He sold up shop at 19 or 20 and went straight there and became the icon.” Howitt fed his findings into Sunshine Boy, telling the story of Bowery’s life through dance, spoken word passages, music and, naturally, those showstopping costumes. Howitt’s performance ranges from his childhood to the Taboo years and then to his death from Aids in 1994 at the age of 33.

Umbilical sausages … Leigh Bowery ‘giving birth’ to his wife. Photograph: James Hill/Rex

.Umbilical sausages … Leigh Bowery ‘giving birth’ to his wife. Photograph: James Hill/Rex

As Sunshine Boy suggests, Bowery remains a larger-than-life persona in underground culture, even 24 years after his death. What made him so different from the other 80s club kids? Partly his looks, which still seem strikingly original. As the impresario of Taboo, he wore a different, jaw-dropping outfit every week. There was the shiny PVC mask and matching catsuit, with one larger leg as if in plaster. There was the polka dot suit worn with polka dot face. There were the lightbulbs he’d wear on either side of his face, the coloured drips that would cover his bald head, the merkin he’d place over his genitals. And then there was his wife, Nicola Bateman, worn naked and strapped upside-down to his chest. (Although Bowery described himself as gay, he married his longtime companion and sometime lover Bateman seven months before his death.)

But Bowery’s creativity was not confined to clubs. He worked with the dancer and choreographer Michael Clark, creating costumes and co-starring in his performances. He appeared in the windows of the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, wearing a different outfit each day of the week. He fronted a band, Minty, and – perhaps most famously – modelled nude several times for Freud. On the back of the Freud connection, Bowery hit the mainstream from various directions. He appeared in a commercial for Pepe Jeans and guested on The Clothes Show on BBC One, taking tea in Harrods dressed in a succession of astonishing get-ups to the soundtrack of his hero, drag star Divine.

Bowery also engaged in more conventional creative work. He was an art director on the 1991 video for Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy, a stylist for Rifat Özbek, a costume designer for Culture Club (Boy George would co-write and star in a successful musical about Bowery). His career resists categorisation. Asked what he most deplored in others by the Guardian in 1993, Bowery replied: “The urge to categorise: if you label me, you negate me.” Perhaps Boy George came up with the most accurate description when he described Bowery as “modern art on legs”. He turned himself, his body and his image into an art object, one that walked among us as well as appeared on stages and in the windows of galleries.

“People are always telling me about the time they saw him,” says Sue Tilley, Bowery’s friend and the author of Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon. “It was probably only once, but he made such an impact they have never forgotten it.” DJ Princess Julia met Bowery in the early 80s, both part of a crowd that included the artist Cerith Wyn Evans, Boy George, Clark, and Bowery’s friend and frequent co-star Trojan. Julia says Bowery, who started off working at Burger King to make ends meet, quickly became a fixture on the scene: “He was very influential because he was very inventive. He was always coming up with ideas.”

His looks, she says, were often inspired by what was happening in wider society. “The dot face, for example, was a comment on Kaposi’s sarcoma” – the cancer which caused the facial lesions that struck many Aids sufferers in the 80s. “His work was about things like body image or illnesses – and those things haven’t gone away. It confronts you and frightens you and makes you think. It’s very disruptive, to use a word of the moment.”

There is a clear line from Bowery to the performers and punters exploring extreme looks today. Glyn Fussell is the founder of Sink the Pink, a playground for the artistic side of drag culture. He says that while the twentysomethings who come to the London club probably haven’t heard of Bowery, his influence is present. “You see it fashion, you see it in the underground, you see it in mainstream culture, in RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Howdy … Bowery at home in 1984. Photograph: Steve Pyke/Getty

It is in fashion that Bowery’s influence is most explicit. Rick Owens’ “human backpack” collection in 2015 was a tribute to Bowery carrying Bateman like a papoose. Menswear designer Charles Jeffrey runs a club called Loverboy that stage shows verging on performance art, much like Bowery. And, with his floral gowns and matching face masks, Richard Quinn, the young London designer who had the Queen in attendance at his February show, has clearly been inspired by Bowery.

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For Gareth Pugh, Bowery is a consistent reference. The designer first learned about him in Fergus Greer’s 2002 book Leigh Bowery Looks: “If you go into any suburban art college you’ll always find that book in the fashion section.” Bowery is inspirational, he believes, becausehe “ created his own language. That’s the golden fleece for any fashion designer: to find something they can be known for 30 years down the line – and for it to be so iconic.”

Of course, some elements of Bowery’s work haven’t aged so well, driven by his relentless desire to shock. One of his most infamous looks was called “Pakis from Outer Space”, inspired by the Asian communities near where Bowery lived in the East End and involving blue faces, bindis and nose rings. He made blouses out of material bearing swastikas, used rags stolen from Jewish artist Freud’s studio to make an image of Hitler and appeared, naked, in makeup similar to blackface, for a Minty publicity photo.

This preoccupation with the extreme offended plenty of people. Clark stopped working with Bowery when he insisted on wearing a costume with “a cunt” written on it. Minty saw their residency at the Soho club Freedom cut short because of a show that involved Bowery “vomiting” vegetable soup into Bateman’s mouth.

Perhaps Bowery’s work was radical satire, all part of a life lived without taboos. Shocking people – and perhaps waking them up – was the ultimate aim. Speaking about a show at an Aids benefit, in which he had an enema on stage that sprayed the front row, he said: “I was quite pleased with the hostile reaction. If I have to ask, ‘Is this idea too sick?’ I know I am on the right track.”

“The idea,” says Pugh, “of wilfully doing things that get a rise out of people. He had this idea of something that is bereft of control, for good or for bad.”

A ticket to the mainstream … one of Lucian Freud’s portraits of Bowery. Photograph: Bridgeman Images

“I don’t think he was setting out with a racist heart,” says Fussell. “He was challenging the status quo. It was about challenging what he was seeing on the streets and making it hyper-realised.”

Howitt’s 40-minute show will cover Bowery’s triumphs, disasters and premature death. Bowery found out he was HIV positive in 1988 and died six years later, not long before combination therapies greatly prolonged the lives of those with the disease. “A lot of people say that if he had survived another month, he would have been OK,” says Howitt.

Tilley often finds herself wondering what Bowery might have achieved had he lived longer. “He had a lot of irons in the fire, but he died before anything properly happened,” she says. Bowery may, she muses, have gone “down the path of reality television”. After all, she concludes: “He would have been brilliant on Big Brother.”

‘Nothing Was Ever Out of Bounds’: Leigh Bowery’s Friends Remember the Legendary Performance Art Provocateur 25 Years After His Death

Cerith Wyn Evans, Baillie Walsh, and Lou Stoppard reminisce about their late friend.

Film still from Cerith Wyn Evans, DEGREES OF BLINDNESS (1988). Courtesy of the British Film Institute National Archive.

Artist Cerith Wyn Evans and director Baillie Walsh met Leigh Bowery on the London club scene. To both, he became a collaborator and a close friend—a subject to film, a designer to call on for incredible garments, an artist to admire, a conspirator to talk with for endless hours on the phone. Sometimes he helped them, sometimes they helped him. Always, they recall, he pushed them—not necessarily forward, that would be too expected, but in a new, uncertain direction that was wide, warped, strange, sweeping, and beyond anything they’d planned. Walsh’s collaborations with Bowery include the music video to accompany Boy George’s 1991 song “Generations of Love,” Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Symphony” video from 1991, as well as “Unstitched” from 1990, which shows Bowery having his cheeks pierced and was regularly screened as a backdrop to Bowery’s performances. Wyn Evans’s works with Bowery include the early films Epiphany, from 1984, and Degrees of Blindness, from 1988. Here, they reflect on their late friend with Lou Stoppard.

Cerith Wyn Evans: Baillie, do you remember he had a tattoo on his inner lip that read “mum?” It was facing inwards so that only his teeth or throat would read “mum.” I told him, If he pulled his lip down, to everyone else it read “wuw.” He said, “Yer – wooo!”

Baillie Walsh: I’ve never talked about Leigh before. It was all too close at the time.

CWE: For a while, it felt like there was a load of people who wanted a bit of it all. When someone died and there was too much attention or discussion, Leigh used to say, “Oh, they just want another slice of death pie, so they can look like they have been a part of something.” And knowing what we do know, that he was living and dealing with HIV, those comments mean more.

BW: My relationship with Leigh was private, special, and personal. I didn’t want it to be public property. But now, 20 years have passed—longer, 23 years—I don’t get the same feeling. It’s nice to see how much I remember, together with Cerith, we can see if we can wheedle out some memories—and some laughs hopefully as Leigh was a-laugh-a-minute. I would like to remember more. What I loved about him was how he’d just turned everything on its head. He made you think in a different way. The idea of “fitting in” was abhorrent to him. I want to remember that. I often try to think in the way that Leigh pushed me to, and it’s nice to have a refresher course.

Bustier with hand-sewn crystals by Leigh Bowery, early 1990s. Courtesy of Lorcan O’Neill.

Lou Stoppard: One thing written a lot about Leigh Bowery is that his whole life was a performance, a work of art. Would you agree with that, having known him more intimately?

CWE: Well, it’s yes and no. I always thought he was much more extreme in mufti, or daywear, than he was in the outfits that he wore at night.

BW: That was much more disturbing, I agree. He looked like a child molester.

CWE: There was a vulnerable side to him, which you saw if you were a close friend. He tended to keep his friends apart; he didn’t like the idea of us talking about him. We had to be kept compartmentalized.

BW: He did love to cause trouble. He loved making stories up. He loved to lie. He would tell you someone had died. He once told me that Brad Branson was dead—he is now dead, so I can tell this story. He told me he was dead because Brad had slept with my boyfriend, John Maybury, so he thought I’d like to hear that. He told it to everybody.

CWE: He absolutely adored lying. I remember him telling me a story about Les Child, who was a dancer with the Michael Clark Company, how he was going through hard times—the company had got dissolved, or was on a break, or something like that. He said, “Oh poor Les. He’s making sandwiches in a gay sauna in Soho.” And I said, “Oh you bitch.” I was laughing. It was obviously a total lie. But then two months later, I ran into Les in the street who said, “I’ve taken to making sandwiches in a gay sauna in Soho. I’ll spring back.” It was true! So you never knew.

BW: Leigh loved to muddy the waters. You never knew what was true and what wasn’t.

Still from Cerith Wyn Evans, EPIPHANY (1984). Courtesy of the British Film Institute National Archive.

LS: Can you both recall when you first met him?

BW: I can remember my first vision of Leigh. It was him and Trojan in Heaven nightclub in the “Pakis from Outer Space” blue look. Apart from the look, they seemed very shy and almost demure. It wasn’t an immediate friendship. It took time. Really, I got to know Leigh properly because I started working with him. I took him to Italy to be in a fashion show—and it was that thing of going away with people and becoming friends, him, Big Sue. He made papier-mâché head masks of himself with the drip look he used to do. So, he had 30 models come out as him. It was for a company called Calugi e Giannelli—really tacky, but we’d do anything for a fee in those days, and it meant going away with a crowd. It was over times like that that I got to know him as him.

CWE: I met him around the same time at The Bell, a gay club in King’s Cross. We used to go on a Sunday night. I nearly fell over because Leigh and Trojan walked in, and Trojan was dressed as Sheba with really intense turquoise hands and face. That look—”Pakis from Outer Space”—was like Leigh’s collection at the time. I was a student at the Royal College, it would have been around 1983. I thought: “I’ve got to do something with these people, I wonder if they’ll be in a film.” I went up to them: “Oh hello, I’m a film student at the Royal College, would you ever consider making a film?” They said, “Yes all right then. We’re going to be in a film!” Leigh really took it seriously. Suitcases would arrive with makeup. Consummate professionals, from the word “go.” And they would do anything. The film was Epiphany. We shot the whole thing on tape on huge machines that had been given by the BBC to the Royal College. You had reels of two-inch video tape—the quality was insane. But these cameras were huge and so heavy, big pneumatic things with enormous cables that would almost move around on their own. We had three cameras on Leigh at all times. He said, “Which camera should I look at? The one with the red light?” And I said, “The red light is going to be on all of them; we’re recording everything, no takes.” He just loved that atmosphere—constantly being watched, reinventing himself, and rethinking his position. You know when you see the cliché of a model or David Hemmings pretending to be David Bailey—Give me this! Give me that!Leigh was like that. Going from look to look, posing and moving. It was just heavenly to witness. It was raw. There was a levity to it. But also, there was a sense of stagecraft and something studied—it was deeply sincere, however much of a laugh it was. The pain he went through and the discomfort to get the looks. It was an exuberant celebration on so many levels.

BW: He never thought he had a look unless it was painful. If it was painful, it meant he was taking it further than anyone else would. One night, we went to Heaven when he was doing the “Mexican mask” look and wanted his profile to be as flat as possible so you didn’t get any nose. I had to take him out because he had a complete panic attack, which you rarely saw with Leigh. He was in proper, incredible pain. You couldn’t unzip the mask because it was so tight. His voice was muffled, and his face was squashed: “Get me out of this!” I took him and Nicola Bateman back to my flat, and I got pliers and scissors to try to undo the zip. I couldn’t get them into it because it was so tight against the skin. Somehow in the end, he got out of it.

CWE: There would be bruises. He would be cut to shreds after a night out.

BW: Each time he went out, he wanted to push it further, getting more and more ambitious. There were some looks he would test out and never do again. He would always gauge the response. If he was just laughed at then that was a disaster. There had to be something more thought-provoking than that. It had to be challenging.

LS: What did he want people to feel? Disgusted? Scared?

BW: Both of those things. He liked laughter too—but not just laughter.

CWE: He was physically so very strong, and often he’d be on insanely high shoes. He was so massive. One of the things he liked doing at Taboo was kicking the ceiling lights out—bang! Glass in everyone’s drinks.

BW: His behavior at times was so extreme. He would pogo around the dance floor—he was such a large being, so it was really intimidating, especially as he was dressed in such a way, with the merkin on and something covering his face. But it was never aggression in a typical sense.

CWE: Never angry.

BW: No, I don’t think I ever saw Leigh angry.

LS: Was he a private person in some ways? Is that part of the reason he performed so much with his own identity, in order to keep certain things hidden?

BW: Well he kept his HIV status from me.

CWE: Me too.

BW: That was obviously very private. But I never felt that Leigh kept secrets much from me, which was why I was so surprised when I did find out that he was HIV positive. That was such a massive thing, especially at that time, because there was nothing you could do.

CWE: Fear and paranoia was everywhere.

BW: We were all watching hundreds of people die around us. When you watched someone die, you were not only very sad you were also terrified—Is that going to be me next? I think Leigh felt that very strongly. I think Leigh didn’t want to be labelled as someone with AIDS. Leigh was much more important, much more than that. And I think that if he had announced that, and if it had gone out into the world, he wouldn’t have been given the freedom to be other than that.

CWE: You look back and think: “Why didn’t I see it?” It was so obvious. We formed a band for a while, me, Leigh and Angus Cook, who was my boyfriend at the time. We didn’t play any music. We were called Magpie Shmagpie. Sue Tilley took the press photographs, which we did on the stairs of the sexual health clinic on Dean Street: all of us coming out of the door, posing with jackets on our shoulders—Leigh’s idea, obviously.

BW: He would talk about it hypothetically: “What if? What am I going to do if I’ve got AIDS?” But everyone was saying the same thing. We lived in fear.

CWE: I remember him on his deathbed saying: “I didn’t even bloody lose any weight.”

LS: I’ve heard he started rumors when he knew he was dying that he was going off to live in a different country.

CWE: He’d say he was going to Papua New Guinea to research anthropological tribe masks. After he died, we went to Patisserie Valerie and spent about 200 quid on cream cakes and had champagne. Sue Tilley said no one was allowed to cry.

Still from Cerith Wyn Evans, EPIPHANY (1984). Courtesy of the British Film Institute National Archive.

LS: I wonder what he would do if he was alive now. Because to play with your identity is easier now than ever, with all these different platforms.

CWE: So many years have passed—it’s a different world. The implications of what Leigh started off doing, and his ways of communicating about things, have become so mainstream, in a way.

BW: Leigh would have morphed into something else. There were so many different stages he went through during my friendship with him: he started in the clubs with no idea of entering the art world; he wasn’t creating art; he was creating attention for himself. Then that ambition changed when he got the gig with Anthony d’Offay gallery, and then later he met Lucian Freud through you, Cerith.

CWE: We sort of thought, “Oh it’ll be fun to mess things up for Lucian—we’ll introduce you to Leigh and then you’ll have to paint sequins!”

BW: I feel that Lucian’s work did change after he met Leigh. Part of Leigh’s thrill was always challenging his friends, and of course he did that to Lucian. I think you can see Leigh’s influence in those pictures.

CWE: Absolutely you can. Lucian was hugely affected by Leigh’s death. He was so so close to him, he really looked up to him.

BW: I love the fact that Lucian still looked up to him even after they found a stolen picture of his in Leigh’s flat. Leigh was stealing 50 pound notes every day when he went in there.

CWE: Lucian would think that that was just wonderful. He would think it was the most noble thing to do!

BW: They deserved each other. These two really strange characters coming together—it was a match made in heaven.

LS: Baillie, talk to me about working with Leigh on your films.

BW: My favorite project was the “Generations of Love” video with everyone in the street. Leigh just loved being a hooker on the street.

CWE: With the blonde wig and the “Come to Bed” t-shirt.

BW: Leigh was the one who got me thinking: “Oh, it’s a pop video, but I can make a porn video.” It was Leigh’s influence on me that kind of pushed me the whole time. He was a great doer, always with massive enthusiasm. It was a great collaboration. We just did it. He loved getting everyone in character and in dress. He’d be pushing Sue: “Get your tits out!” He got everyone—Rachel Auburn, Les Child, Michael Costiff, Talulah—in their costumes and their appropriate looks. Les Child fought every step of the way because Leigh was trying to cover his face in Vaseline. I would say that that was our most successful collaboration. His influence pushed me to a place that I thought was really interesting for a pop video.

CWE: That video is sort of sad also in a funny way. It’s mournful. There’s a melancholy at the heart of it, this idea of generations of love.

BW: I think the last project we did together was the Massive Attack video. That shoot was the first and only argument I ever had with him, and I don’t think he ever really forgave me. He’d made a dress for Shara Nelson, and we needed to find some way to cover up the earpiece that we needed her to wear. The collar wasn’t high enough, so he suggested a wig. She looked ghastly in, but of course Leigh loved it because it was so wrong. It got very awkward in front of the band. Leigh was determined, and I had to finally put my foot down. Leigh never really wanted to be told what to do. We were never quite the same after that trip to LA. Before that, we’d been two hours on the phone to each other everyday for seven years. But then also our lives were changing. Leigh was working with Lucian—his interests were changing. Our common interests were drifting.

CWE: He’d never do what he was asked to. At that time, I did some pop videos for The Fall. And we also did a play together at Riverside Studios where he played a Chicago mafia boss. Leigh would improvise lines, and every night he would stretch his lines by quite a few minutes by writing some “new material.” I can remember him coming on doing dances or singing songs, and then going into his lines. Mark E Smith would be grumbling and laughing. One thing that has always stuck with me and has been a barometer for me ever since: Leigh would look at something and say, “Yer, it was all right. But where’s the poison?”

Almost like a kind of homeopathic thing; you would need this poisonous kernel, so that it could be transformative, something in it that was deeply subversive and could dissolve hierarchies.

BW: Exactly. As much as he did work for me, I also did a lot of work for him. He would engage you as the magician’s helper. One of my strongest memories of him is when he did the AIDS benefit at the Fridge. It was his first ‘douche’ show. He comes out dancing with a corset and a merkin. I think it was to ‘Nothing Compares to You’. He’d rehearsed it so he’d lie back on a plinth, open his legs, and squirt a fountain of water from his arse. But he hadn’t rehearsed it with a corset. So, when the time came, he couldn’t lean back. So he goes to the front of the stage and bends over to squirt over the white table cloths. Of course, he was very nervous so the water wasn’t completely clean. He’s squirting shit all over the front row of an AIDS benefit. For the second part of the piece, he put a great big skirt on that I had to get under (as I was the back of the horse, if you will). I’m meant to get him onto my shoulders so he could be ten feet tall waving in this giant skirt. I get under and it’s covered in shit, slipping around everywhere. But it’s show business—not a choice! He was properly freaked out after that show; he knew that he had pushed the poison to the limit as people were horrified. And it did cause a scandal. He’d shat on the front tables at an AIDS benefit! That was Leigh when he really did think for a minute that he’d pushed it too far. There was fear—and it was rare that you saw Leigh with fear.

CWE: If you did that now, you’d probably go to prison. Anything that was inappropriate—Leigh was like a magnet. Everything inappropriate was good. Everything appropriate was bad. It was pretty clear cut. He was really an anarchist.

BW: That’s why John Waters’s films so influenced Leigh. Divine in Female Trouble was a benchmark for Leigh in so many ways.

Still from Cerith Wyn Evans, EPIPHANY (1984). Courtesy of the British Film Institute National Archive.

LS: Was it ever tiring being friends with someone who was that unrelenting in their commitment to subversion?

CWE: No. Because he was also so sweet and gentle. Like Baillie described—I was one of the people on the other end of the phone for an hour or two a day. We’d sit there watching television and he’d be like—What is Lorraine Kelly wearing?

LS: Did you ever feel embarrassed by him?

CWE: I can remember being on holiday in Cornwall with Leigh. Sue Tilley drove Leigh down; she couldn’t get into the car because Leigh had made a frock to wear in pink dayglo. It was like a Molly Goddard dress but the size of a flat—with all this tulle bunched into the car, the entire car was full. As soon as he arrived, he ran into the sea, and it soaked up so much seawater he nearly drowned. It was completely hysterical. I can remember this one dreadful situation: Leigh would do anything to embarrass Sue in public—it was one of his absolutely favorite things to do. So, we were alone in this grand Catholic church. And this lone nun was walking towards us in her habit. Sue was going, “Leigh, no. No. No.” Sue—she’s a big girl—and she’s trying to hide behind the column in the church. And Leigh is going at this 90-year-old woman in her habit, “Oi! My friend wants to eat you out!” The nun just shuffled away. “Bless you my child.” The strange thing is it never wore you out. He was like quicksilver, also. In the next moment, it would be a completely different thing—he’d be helping you make a pea soup. He thought it was hilarious that you had to buy a huge sack of peas to make a small bowl of pea soup.

BW: I was never embarrassed by Leigh because Leigh was never embarrassed. The joke was never on Leigh; he was making the joke, so there was never painful embarrassment.

CWE: But there would be times when he would be vulnerable. He’d open up on the phone and say, “Oh, I don’t know what I’m doing.” He wasn’t always high octane.

BW: Leigh really led a life on the telephone. Cerith was part of that. I was part of that. Sue was part of that. A lot of our lives were spent on the phone—hours and hours a day. That’s not high octane or a performance. That’s a proper relationship.

CWE: You’d talk about things in the news…

BW: …or sometimes there was just silence. And you’d hear a sewing machine going.

LS: The construction of his garments was incredible. People often talk about how great he was at making looks, but perhaps not enough focus is put on just how skilled he was at making clothes.

CWE: He was very fastidious about the idea of learning techniques. He really looked up to Mr. Pearl, who had this career in Paris making amazing corsets. Berwick Street market was an Aladdin’s cave, where you could get the sequin fabrics and needles and threads—he would refer to that as the Stitch Bitch Trail.

LS: He’s often remembered in terms of the Club Kids. What do you make of that?

CWE: I don’t think he actually liked the whole New York Club Kids thing. He went there, he was adored there. But the people that he really liked were the ones from Jackie 60 and Mother and Blacklips Performance Cult. He liked the drag queens who were politicized.

BW: He liked the ones who were incredibly smart. He loved intelligence.

CWE: He liked revolutionary people. Political people.

BW: The Club Kids thing was an early part of his history, but his ambitions moved way beyond that. Leigh, above everything else, was incredibly intelligent, a thing that shines through for me. He had many stages. He created this persona from nowhere. And he trod unknown ground and was still reinventing every day.

CWE: And he was constantly looking for ways to undermine his reputation for what he’d become known as.

LS: Are there any particular days with him that stand out?

BW: It was his birthday, and I really wanted to fuck him over. So I thought: “I’m going to get him a cat. It’s a wicked present to give someone.” I called all the pet shops, and there was a kitten in Camden Town. So I went to the pet shop, and it had sold! I thought: “Fuck it, I’ve failed.” And as I was walking down to St Martin’s Lane through Cecil Court, there was a homeless person with a cat, saying: “Do you want a cat?” I was so shocked I said, “No,” and walked up the street. But then I thought: “Of course you fucking do.” So, I went back and bought the cat, a fully-grown black cat. It was so extraordinary and immediately friendly and affectionate. I went home and put it in a stereo box, wrapped it up and went over to Leigh’s flat. Leigh unwrapped it, saw the box and thought that I had bought him a stereo. He was saying, “Oh that’s great.” Then he opened it, and the cat jumped out. He was completely horrified at first. But then he was a great father to the cat. Leigh adored Angus.

CWE: He named him Angus, which was the name of my boyfriend at the time. He did it to punish him.

BW: The cat was always sleeping in amongst fabric.

CWE: The flat was pretty amazing. Before Trojan died, it had Star Trek wallpaper. And after he died, Leigh decided that he wanted to change it. And as he was peeling off the wallpaper, he found one of Trojan’s hairs, from when Trojan and Leigh had put up the wallpaper. Leigh said he freaked out and didn’t know what to do. “I just ate it,” he said. He just had to ingest it.

LS: Tell me about his wedding; he married Nicola Bateman.

CWE: That was quite late on. I was his best man.

BW: The wedding was one of the secrets that I didn’t know about. Cerith was privy to that. But that was another of those “What else didn’t I know?” moments.

CWE: Leigh was in Minty [his band] at that time. He was also very scared at that point, and I imagine was probably showing symptoms of HIV/AIDS. He got married so that if the worst happened, at least Nicola would have a roof over her head. He was in a furious mood all day. He had this blond wig on and a coat that he’d bought on Brick Lane that was very nice, black, heavy, silk satin—an Orthodox Jewish man’s coat. Nicola just kept saying things like, “Oh darling, this is the happiest day of any woman’s life.” She was dressed in blue and had a blue garter—everything was her “something blue.” She’d really gone for things as if it was the Royal Wedding. Her sister was the bridesmaid and was dressed in a bizarre 1960s pop-art Paco Rabanne dress; her hair was big and bouffant and had black and white make up, mod shoes and big Perspex earrings. After the wedding, Leigh said he had to go to a Minty rehearsal: “Nicola you have the money, make sure that you spend it all on a wedding breakfast.” We went to the Angus Steak House on Leicester Square, the three of us there looking like complete freaks. We had steak and chips and a salad. After, Nicola’s sister and I went to a party at the Architectural Association, where I was teaching at the time—I actually got Leigh in to teach there too—and she won a prize for best fancy dress.

BW: How long before he died did they have the wedding?

CWE: A couple of months. It was the summer, I think, and he died in winter.

BW: On New Year’s. So very Leigh to ruin New Year’s. So sick, because every New Year’s you think of Leigh.

Film still from Baillie Walsh’s UNSTITCHED (1990). Courtesy of the artist.

LS: Tell me about getting him in to teach at the Architectural Association.

CWE: I was teaching a foundation course, which I’d got into because someone had asked me to come show my films and give a talk to some students. I’d asked to see the students’ work and ended up doing these tutorials and got on well with the students. Someone was having a baby and went on maternity leave—so all of sudden I was running the foundation department at the Architectural Association, despite having never studied architecture and actually being rather suspicious of architects. I ended up teaching there for seven years. I’d try and get them to look at things around buildings: dance, fashion, the body, do plans for zoning in department stores, or map Selfridges on top of the British museum so the Assyrian department would be in the same place as the shoe department—stuff like that. It was about opening people’s minds up, to stop them just thinking about making fabulous houses on golf courses in the Mediterranean. I thought Leigh would be perfect to come in, do it for a term and see how it went. I had a bit of a budget, so we hired ten sewing machines. He suggested we have to make a pair of gloves, as that was really, really difficult. So, we did a glove making workshop—every student had to make a pair to fit their own hand, and Leigh was there to help. The students were just over the moon—they loved him. On his first day, he had been so nervous. I remember he had on this pair of trousers that Jean Paul Gaultier had given him. They were green stretch satin, the weirdest thing. They had obviously worn out so many on the bottom that they had the overlocked stitching to hold them together, over and over and over again to keep the whole thing together. I can remember looking at him; he was covered in makeup—very, very heavy foundation.

BW: It would be orange.

CWE: And lots of rouging on the cheeks. Sometimes he’d wear one of his chemotherapy wigs, which he would have gotten from a charity shop and then cut so you could see all the netting on the scalp. But he was so tall. I thought: ‘You’re huge today, four inches taller than normal.’ I couldn’t work it out. He lifted the trousers up. And inside his trainers was a pair of trannie stilettos.

BW: He loved height. He wanted to be the biggest man in the room.

CWE: He was so nervous though.

BW: But the nervousness was endearing, wasn’t it?

CWE: Absolutely. By the end of the day he knew the names of their brothers and sisters, where they came from, all of that. He’d see them two months later and be like, “So, is Mathilda still doing the veterinary college thing?”

BW: There was always a boy he really fancied.

CWE: One time, Pearl came in, and we showed them a VHS cassette of a Christian Lacroix couture show. The students had never seen a fashion show. Pearl was there whispering away about couture and handcraft with his 16-inch waist. Leigh thought the show was genius and flawless. All the students were really getting into it. So, the project developed so that at the end of Leigh’s term we were going to do a fashion show, where the models were going to be the students and they were going to make outfits, couture outfits, based on a building. A very bright boy from Bulgaria chose a Bruce Goff strange kind of desert range house from the early 1960s. There was a very privileged Iranian woman who didn’t have a portfolio and would use a brand-new giant Chanel shopping bag to carry her work. Leigh was of course like, ‘She’s a genius; she’s incredible.’ She decided that for the fashion show, she wanted to come as the Taj Mahal. So Leigh helped her make a papier-mâché dome helmet, which she decided she was going to cover in fusilli pasta, glued on and sprayed silver. Now, the Taj Mahal has a lake down the front of it, so she got some Perspex manufacturer to make these two narrow strips which went down the front with blue colored water inside and model trees glued down the side. The fashion show was very well attended—Vivienne Westwood, Rifat Özbek, Jasper Conran, and people from Vogue came. Leigh was the compere. And for that role, he decided to sport his head coming out of a toilet bowl with brown latex filled with rice krispies all down his front—like a brown shitty head coming out of a toilet—with a see-through corset, a huge skirt and black eye makeup. He had a clipboard with notes about each student and spoke in a voice as if it was a couture show: “And the next model that we have is…” I remember in one bit he said, “Dana has come at the Taj Ma Hole, oh sorry Mahal.” People were roaring with laughter. It was off-the-charts mental what people were wearing, but the students were genuinely moved.

LS: The breadth of the things you both worked with him on is quite something: films, teaching, performances.

CWE: Well, he was a very creative person, so nothing was ever out of bounds.

BW: It’s been lovely reminiscing and remembering. The tragedy is that he’s not here, because he would be pushing boundaries like no one else I’ve ever known and making me, certainly, and probably everyone else question everything.

Video-still from Charles Atlas, Teach, 1992-98Still of video by Vilma Gold

Four things you never knew about Leigh Bowery

The club scene icon’s best friend Sue Tilley shares some little-told stories from her life with the founder of Taboo

 

Leigh Bowery 20 Images

Dressed in looks dripping in colour, with overdrawn lips and exaggerated silhouettes distorting his form beyond recognition, Leigh Bowery is the Christian boy who became an icon of club-kid history, inspiring everyone from Alexander McQueen (who once went to see his band Minty before their Soho residency was shut down for obscenity) to Gareth Pugh. More than 20 years after his death, Bowery’s long-term best friend, biographer and party companion Sue Tilley, was joined by a group of enthusiasts at the Café Royal this week for a talk as part of A Curious Invitation’s Icons of Fashion series, to tell his story from a more intimate perspectiv, from exploits in London to checking into the hospital under the name John Waters and watching his bands Minty and Raw Sewage (once named the Quality Street Rappers). Here are four things we learned about the icon. 

HIS DIY DESIGNS HAVE ENDED UP IN THE LOUIS VUITTON ARCHIVES

“His goal was to be a fashion designer,” explained Tilley. “But he wouldn’t really fit in. He wrote in his diary in 1981: ‘Fashion, where all girls have clear skin, blue eyes, blonde-blown wavy hair and a size 10 figure, and all the men have clear skin, moustaches, short waved blonde hair and masculine physical appearance, STINKS.” For the most part, Bowery decided to use his own body as a canvas for self-expression, but he did make clothes for a few friends and Boy George (who was a big fan). According to Tilley, “Boy George was terrified of him and was thrilled that Leigh Bowery was making clothes for him – he was obsessed to the point of writing musicals about him and everything!” Now many of the creations Sue received are in the hands of Louis Vuitton menswear designer Kim Jones, also a big Bowery fan. “He buys his clothes off me or I swap them for Louis Vuitton bags,” chuckled Tilley, “because to be honest, he’ll look after them a hundred times better than me, put it in the vaults at Louis Vuitton, and I’d rather that than having them in a box getting tatty.”

“Fashion, where all girls have clear skin, blue eyes, blonde-blown wavy hair and a size 10 figure… STINKS” – Leigh Bowery

HE FELT THE TIME WAS RIGHT FOR TABOO TO END  

Taboo, Bowery’s iconic club night founded in January 1985, served as a meeting point for all types of people inspired by freedom of expression and absolute disregard for the traditional. The club staged its last hurrah in 1986, after asserting itself as the pinnacle of London nightlife. Tilley explained the story behind its closure. “Someone sold a big story to the papers about it being a den of vice and drugs. I never saw drugs or people on heroin or whatever, but perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right place. So this was the story, and the club had no choice but to shut it down.” But Bowery believed the time was right. “He then realised it was actually a good thing – it’s much better when something is shut down at its pinnacle when it’s still really good than when it’s died down and there’s three people from the suburbs in there. And then they asked him if he wanted to open it again and he went, “No. It’s best that it stopped when it did.”

The original club kids: Boy George and Leigh Bowery at Taboovia pinterest.com

HIS BODY PERFORMANCE ART HAD ACCIDENTAL BEGINNINGS

Although Bowery is perhaps best known for birthing his friend and wife Nicola Bateman, who came out of the performer’s ‘vagina’ with sausages for an umbilical cord, his first venture into the performing arts didn’t quite go as planned. “His first performance was at a crypt in a church that was run by the neo-naturists, a bunch of people who just walked around half-naked, the most famous one probably being Grayson Perry,” Tilley remembered. “Everyone was standing round. He went round and stripped off naked, and in the process he caught his nipple that he’d just had pierced. It started bleeding and there was blood pouring down his chest… So he put on a doctor’s coat and pretended to inject (co-performer) Trojan with various syringes, Trojan then threw lighter fuel to the floor and set fire to it, while Leigh pissed into a glass, then Trojan drank half the piss and used the rest to douse the flames. I don’t think he’d be allowed to do that nowadays because of health and safety – but everything went then. Things got a little more professional after this, but bodily fluids still played a big part in Leigh’s repertoire.”

“Leigh pissed into a glass, then Trojan drank half the piss and used the rest to douse the flames. I don’t think he’d be allowed to do that nowadays because of health and safety” – Sue Tilley

Many unfamiliar with the 80s club kids will know Bowery as one of artist Lucian Freud’s sitters. The 1990 portrait Freud painted of him, “Leigh Bowery (seated)”, was hailed by many as a masterpiece. Tilley, who also sat for the artist, explained how the two met during one of Bowery’s performances in a room with a two-way mirror. “Leigh dressed in a different outfit everyday, and he’d walk around this space like a sort of caged animal – he was very gymnastic as well, so he did a lot of high kicks and spinning on the floor. And there were musical traffic sounds and different smells coming. People used to come to the gallery for two hours – some of them were there every day to watch him. That was proper validation, because it was ‘proper art’ and it was accepted. One member of the crowd that came to see him was an old artist called Lucian Freud – because some of our friends worked for Lucian Freud they had mentioned Leigh, and he was curious and wanted to see what he was like, since he had a lot of interest in the world. He came along and was absolutely thrilled by him – especially by his calves. He said “It’s amazing! His calves go straight into his feet!” so he decided he wanted to paint him. This was a real turning point for Leigh.”

References

  • The AIDS Memorial – Leigh Bowery