When I was at Art School in Edinburgh in the early 1980s, there was only one place to be: the Hoochie-Koochie Club. Why? Because it was the only gay nightclub. Straight women liked it because there was an unspoken rule: straights were welcome, but no hitting on the women. Straight men liked it because we were much less likely to get battered in the face there than in any of the regular meat-markets in the city. There was no pressure; you could just chill, dance, have a drink. And although the hetero was low-key, one could still get lucky.
But more than that, it was culturally cool. The gays always had the best music. They were the best-dressed cats in town and if somebody said ‘you’re looking a bit gay today’ you knew you had your fashion statement bang on. It was the era of the New Romantics and everybody was wearing eye-liner and bleaching their hair. Gender signals were profoundly mixed. Straight women wore sports jackets and top hats over jeans and men wore earrings and chiffon. The gay zeitgeist was as hip as it could be.
After I graduated I became Sabbatical President of my Alma Mater’s Student Representative Council. One of my responsibilities was to listen to the pleas of destitute and often homeless students who had spent the grant, that was meant to last twelve weeks, in four of solid, flat out partying. Having also burnt the £50 overdraft facility that Barclays Bank would give anyone who walked in with a matriculation card, they ended up in front of me, begging for a bail out from the hardship fund; which I always gave them. I remember one, Alan we shall call him, sitting on my desk, holding one of my hands in his and supplicating me for help, despite the fact that I’d already said ‘yes’. And when he left he flounced out in style, blowing me kisses and wiggling his bum.
Another of my roles was to oversee the opening of the new Student Bar, which had been years in the development. Pulling a political fast one on the hard left, who apparently wanted old bentwood chairs and sacking, I persuaded the other Governors to give me enough money to turn it into the most gay-attractive place in Edinburgh — and so it became, the legendary Wee Red Bar. (Yup, that was me.) Why did I do this? Because gay was hip. Gay was cool. Gay meant bums on seats and cocktails being drunk, great music, colour, women not being harassed by neds and NO HASSLE.
Everybody interesting was gay. Freddie Mercury was gay, George Michael and Jimmy Somerville were gay, Frankie Goes to Hollywood were gay and Marc Almond was even more dangerously sexy than Debbie Harry. ‘YMCA’, ‘Relax’ and ‘Tainted Love’ were the soundtrack. Gay was the zeitgeist, the iconography to follow. Straights had to infer some sort of a kink just to be taken seriously — just look at Phil Oakey. Gay was cool.
That was before HIV. I remember the tragedy all too clearly. But I could not have foreseen, then, working as a freelance photographer and documenting this horror, through the tears I cried for friends taken — what was to come.
Gay just ain’t cool no more
Gay isn’t cool any more. Gay isn’t dangerous or cutting edge. Gay people are surely as lovely as they ever were, but they lost the zeitgeist. Instead of sparkling young things with multicoloured hair, full make-up and the most provocative clothes anyone approximating masculine gender could possibly wear, we have…two near-identical, balding, inclined to sedentary spread, IT technicians getting married. Did someone say ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show?’
Now don’t get me wrong. Of course it goes without saying that everyone should be treated equally under the law.
But it’s all so godawfully DULL
But you know what? It’s dull. It’s grey. It’s what I never would have believed gays could be, boring and conventional. Square.
What happened to the rampant ménages a trois, quatre, cinq or more that the Art School models used to tell us about during their tea-breaks? What happened to the flaming boys with their tongues so far down each other’s throats they could have retuned their vocal cords? What happened to the fashion statements? I think Stephen Fry is very sweet and avuncular but iconic? Are you kidding? Marc Almond was iconic. Stephen is…comfortable. And he was about the most dangerous gay man still left out there, until Milo arrived, bless her. The rest have been swallowed up in a tide of grey, conformist schlock. What happened to the zeitgeist, dammit?
Gone. All lost. The leaders of the gay movement today belong to a group called the ‘accommodationists’ and no, it’s not a synth band. This group’s philosophy was articulated by Jim Fouratt, a New-York based activist. It may be summed up as: ‘please accept us; we’re just like you but we love other men.’
Which is a lovely sentiment, don’t you think? Except it is one of submission. The accommodationists thought that if they conformed to society’s notions of gender, they might sneak under its radar. And they had a great stroke of political fortune when the HIV epidemic wiped out most of the opposition.
So they erased and banished the real leaders, like Harry Hay, the ‘Radical Faerie’ a cross-dressing imp who founded the Mattachine Society, the forerunner of the modern gay movement. They erased the drag queens who really led the Stonewall Riots, like Marsha P. King and Sylvia Rivera; so successful were they that the director of
the ‘Stonewall’, (Roland P. Emmerich, as badly-dressed an accommodationist as one could wish for) actually wrote them out of the story completely. For shame.
Could I ever have believed, remembering Alan, sitting on my desk in his cowboy boots and hot pants, his hair pink and blue and his nails painted, reeking of patchouli, that such would be the end of something so colourful and provocative — that the face of 21st century gayness would be two middle-aged IT technicians in bad suits taking the pledge of monogamy?
Gay and lesbian has become boring. It’s dull. It’s unattractive. It’s conventional. It’s Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell. It’s square, man. Boring conventionalism has bought it, drawn its teeth and clipped its wings. Face it: you can’t be L or G and be interesting any more. Well, except Milo, maybe. But we all know that she’s really a tranny underneath.
Oh the Bisexuals are still out there having fun, but you should hear what the L and G have to say about them, darling. Conformity — that sad expression of social conservatism that is nowhere more at home than in the US — has sold out all the individuals in the name of the ghastly Post-modernist orthodoxy of Identity politics.
Square square square.
And then again.
Suddenly Laverne Cox. Suddenly Janet Mock, Carmen Carerra and Blaire White. Suddenly smart, stylish, articulate and beautiful trannies are everywhere.
Gays and lesbians gave up the zeitgeist. They — or at least the mainstream — didn’t really want to be cutting edge, not once they were over thirty-five and got decent jobs anyway. So they abandoned all the dangerous people and settled for conformity; a safe marriage, a mortgage and maybe kids. How nice.
One flaming femboy, her bubble-butt stretching the velour of her lethally short pants, her bag slung on her shoulder, mincing along the street in ludicrously high pumps, is more challenging in ten paces than all the clone, accommodationist gays and lesbians will be in their entire lives. Our mincing poppet doesn’t give two hoots for the status the New Gay Man lives to accrue. She throws it back in his face and laughs at him. She just wants to be drop-dead gorgeous and have lots of sex and most of all, she wants it on her terms — just like gays used to, before they bought into the New Gay Man accommodationist dogma.
The effect of that is cataclysmic. Thirty-five years ago, before the onset of the HIV epidemic and the triumph of the accommodationists, gay men and lesbians stole the initiative; but they sold out. A tide of grey washed over everything. Now all that is changing. Trannies are appearing everywhere; they’re on catwalks, on television, on magazine covers, all over the Internet.
They have grabbed back the zeitgeist and are running with it. They
have the excitement, the danger and the glamour and they know it; they always knew it, but now they have articulate voices too, voices that are being listened to, voices that won’t be shouted down by don’t-rock-the-boat gays and lesbians, or for that matter, those terminally dull stuffed-shirt men in frocks, the autogynephiles.
In 2004, Fouratt, in a speech that shocked many, claimed that trans
women were ‘crazy queens’ who threatened ‘the way we live our lives’. What he meant was that feminine gay men should stop being feminine, that they should instead assert their masculinity and thus fit into his accommodationist model, which was less menacing to the ‘patriarchy’. This was not how it was read, at least by many trans activists, who threw the kind of storm in a latte cup they are famous for; but these were all autogynephilic ‘trans women’ (they wish). They definitely are not an extension of homosexual maleness; many in fact see themselves as lesbian. Get your head around that. In the last two decades, however, they have been the ones who made the noise. Fouratt was torpedoed and sank from view.
Another type of tranny, and it ain’t Borg-Warner
But there is another type of tranny. They don’t think they’re ‘real women’ but they damn well know they are girls. They are hot as hell, drop-dead gorgeous, wild in bed (well, so they tell me) and have serious hot pants for straight men.
They are the ‘early onset androphile’, ‘Blanchard HSTS’, or more informally, ‘transkids’ (because they identify as girls while still children). They are the daughters of a line of trannies reaching back into history, far beyond the invention of writing.
They are cousins to the hijra and thirunangai of India, the kathoey of Thailand, the transpinays of the Philippines, the waria of Indonesia, the North American ‘Two Spirit’ people and the travestis of Latin America and Southern Europe, as well as myriad other populations all over the world. Once, they were priestesses to the goddesses Inanna, Ishtar and Astarte.
The Roman writer Livy tells how devotees of Cybele distilled pregnant mare urine to extract the oestrogen, which they used to feminise themselves — and would secretly give to their enemies to emasculate them. In Rome they were the galli, boys who ritually self-castrated to become priestesses — a procedure we might find shocking but which is carried on to this day by the hijra. The ancient Vedic texts, the foundation of Hinduism, describe them in detail. They have always been among us.
In Thailand , trannies are estimated to be one percent of born-male population. Thailand is famously trans and gay friendly, but in Malaysia, which is anything but, one study put the prevalence only slightly lower at 1:170. The latest census in India, the first to try to count them, put the numbers of hijra close to half a million, but due to high rates of illiteracy and deep mistrust of authority, most did not register. Support workers estimate that there may be as many as four million.
Anyone who has spent time in SE Asia knows that there is a continuum between feminine gay men and trannies. Traditionally, gay men in these societies identify as women ‘on the inside’ and they will express this if the circumstances are right. This depends on the level of social tolerance they experience, the cultural confirmation of their feminine identity — Asian societies have long-established traditions venerating trans people and indeed, may be more tolerant of trans than of gay men — and, bluntly, how beautiful they are.
Naturally feminine boys
This is now happening in the West and oh how the dull greys hate it. But if you are a naturally feminine boy attracted to men, would you really want to become the image of the accommodationist gay man, an IT technician in a bad suit? It’s the last thing you’d do, if you could be a DDG tranny instead. This is what actually does happen, in most of the world.
It looks like the accommodationist gay movement and its counterpart lesbian one, have come to the end of their shelf-life. We should not be sad about this; all things must pass. There will always be a place for gay men whose masculinity is too central to their personalities to let go of. But at the price of all that dullness.
The tranny star is rising. They have taken up the torch that was cast aside by the gays and lesbians — of being stylish, of being shocking, of being iconoclastic, of being dangerously sexy but most of all, of waving the bold red rag of refusal to conform in the face of all the dull, grey people.
Get ready. The zeitgeist is a freight train coming and the trannies have their hands on the loud lever. Best not be in the way.
Why not settle into a nice sexy yarn full of sex, trannies, blackmail, intrigue and political scandal? The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train has it all.
I first wrote this article in 2015. I’ve updated and tweaked it, but it’s not much changed and still as apposite. Which I find dryly amusing.
Also published on Medium.