From Borough Poly to a Biscuit Tin: Queer Art at Tate Britain

The exhibition “Queer British Art” at Tate Britain highlights the many different ways LGBT people have made art, and made liveable lives for themselves 
(until 1 October, details here)

At the point when I came across Noel Coward’s dressing gown in a glass case, I had my doubts about Queer British Art. I’d already seen sentimental Victorian versions of ancient Greece, portraits of famous forebears and now a famous thespian’s clothing. Had the curators just gathered together any old thing related to LGBT people and put it on show? And there may be some element of that. But there’s still something important and deeply moving about this somewhat random collection of artworks and mementos.

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Saint with a blue dress on: a footnote from queer history

St Jerome in a blue dress

A fifteenth-century prayer book shows bearded father of the church St Jerome wearing the clothing you’d associate with a noblewoman. What’s going on?

Around 1400 Jean de Berry, a French nobleman, commissioned a sumptuously illustrated prayer book, the Belles Heures, today recognised as a masterpiece of its period. One of its illustrations concerns Saint Jerome, one of the most respected of saints. The illustration is in two parts. On the right, Jerome sleeps in a small room while another monk carries a garment of bright blue, a striking contrast with the dull colours of the monk’s habit and the blankets on Jerome’s bed. Then, in the image on the left, Jerome – identified by his beard and saintly halo – is wearing the blue garment in the chapel. It turns out to be the kind of dress women in this period wore, with a tight waist and sleeves and a full, trailing skirt. Two monks seem to be having a conversation about what Jerome is doing, and are possibly laughing at him.

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Review: Guapa by Saleem Haddad

Author Saleem Haddad

Guapa is the story of Rasa, a young man in an unnamed Arab country. In the first pages he awakens to recall the disastrous night before, when his grandmother caught him in bed with another man in the apartment he shares with her. How men who love other men make lives for themselves in Middle Eastern countries is inseparable in the novel, however, from wider social and political questions. Rasa has been involved in huge protests against the dictatorial president as part of his country’s Arab Spring. For a short, optimistic period real freedom seemed possible. But the decline of those protests has left behind it a choice between the regime and an Islamist opposition, both repressive in their different ways.

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Why I’m not celebrating the fall of Keith Vaz

Keith Vaz

 

I never thought I would feel the slightest sympathy for Keith Vaz. The parliamentary watchdog twice found he had received money without declaring it; he was sacked over his relationship with the wealthy Hinduja brothers; he was suspended from parliament for making false allegations about a woman who had accused him of corruption; and he claimed tens of thousands in expenses for a Westminster flat when he lived 45 minutes away in Stanmore. If you want to know why so many people hold politicians in contempt, you have only to look at Vaz’s career.

But Vaz has fallen not over (alleged) corruption, but over sex with two East European escorts who also supplied poppers – “the sex-enhancing drug used by gay men” as the Guardian helpfully explains to its readers. Now, maybe we should think of this as the exposure of a cynical, hypocritical individual who pretended respectability. There’s a pleasure in possessing the moral high ground – I’ve already seen a friend of a friend on Facebook taking the view that she could never feel any sympathy for someone who bought sex.

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Beatriz Preciado – Testo Junkie

Testo Junkie book cover

Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, Feminist Press, New York, £16.99 (Amazon Kindle edition £6.47)

Testo Junkie addresses its theme – sex, drugs and biopolitics – in two ways. The first is autobiographical, Preciado’s account of her life as she takes testosterone, in the form of a gel applied to the skin. This she does without medical supervision, since she isn’t interested in transitioning, in going through what she sees as a medically defined process through which she rejects her female identity. So the doses of testosterone are low – not enough to cause “masculinisation” such as facial hair. This is an experiment, to test or play with her identity as a woman, to examine its boundaries. She is, in her phrase, a “gender hacker”. She writes:

I do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. Neither do I want the male gender that transsexual medicine can furnish and that the state will award me if I behave in the right way. I don’t want any of it.

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Audre Lorde – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

zamiPublished in 1982, Zami is a memoir by Audre Lorde, the black feminist lesbian writer. Lorde died of cancer in 1992, having gained a position of great respect in the 1980s women’s movement for her writing about the overlapping issues of race, gender and sexuality which had formed the context for her own life. As I recall, while the word “intersectionality” wasn’t used back then, these were live issues – there existed a Gay Black Group and a Gay Lesbian Group which met at Gay’s the Word bookshop.

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