Risk, Embarrassment, Democracy! Glasgow’s ‘Queer’ Scene, 1955-2008

Queer Scotland

By the mid 20th century Glasgow was home to a growing non-heterosexual population, and wherever such groups exist there are platforms for social engagement. When I interviewed 2 dozen gay and bisexual men in the mid 2000s, stories emerged which detailed the history and development of the queer scene in Glasgow. I have already produced a map which details many of the venues which catered, publicly or privately, for the city’s non-heterosexual population, but in this blog post I want to flesh out beyond the structural history and engage with the emotional and social history of the queer scene in the city.

Stephen (b. 1939) recalled how he became aware that ‘gay’ bars existed in the city, during the mid 1950s:

I was in about 19 maybe 20 and I had overheard a conversation with my father and they were speaking about a local celebrity and my father’s colleague…

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First blog jitters are simply a matter of opinion.

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So I’ve just set up my blog and now what? I’ve got no real grasp on what my intentions are and, to be even more limp, it is now dawning on me like some merciless cold light that I have somehow succeeded in failing to develop any actual opinions of my own over the course of my life. Instead I’ve read what other people think, reviewed their books, interviewed them about their books, listened to them and other actually awake people engaging in debate while I’ve sat back politely and then possibly, at a later date when I was taken by a particularly bold mood, regurgitated some of their points. I’m going to be a rubbish blogger. Or maybe I’m going to try and be an honest one. A sincere rubbish blogger. Yes, I can do that. Maybe I’ll start there. With a blog post about not having anything to blog about…how original. How exciting.

It’s because I’m over-sensitive. Always was. Can’t take criticism, you see. So you keep quiet and avoid confrontation and then suddenly, years later, discover that you’ve turned yourself into a bland opinionless cypher with a broad vocabulary and nothing to actually say. So blogging confronts me with a peculiarly existential personal challenge. My virtual Waterloo. I probably just need to get into the groove with it, that’s all. No, this blogging thing is going to be good for me, I can sense that now. Is that a slight tingle of resolve I can feel down the far end of one of my extremities? That’s it! I’m going to blog myself bolder. Blog myself into an opinion. Dredge myself in search of a bit of personality. Maybe I do have lots of stuff to say and just don’t realize it. It’s not that I don’t have any views…I’ve simply misplaced them. There is a ton of stuff I’m passionate about. Like books, yes, like brilliant, beautifully written books and how great authors are the most important people on the planet because they are the ones who carve out the pathways to new possibilities of meaning. They are the lantern-bearers of not just ideas but the cultural, social and political change that those ideas rest upon.

Actually, you know, I could sort of get into this.

Any advice on blogging would be more than welcome, by the way.

Privates on Parade My Buddy – World War II Laid Bare – Photographic Book Review

Privates on Parade

My Buddy – World War II Laid Bare

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In the Summer of 2014 Taschen published a gorgeous photobook of naked young allied soldiers from WWII. These photos have been collected over the years by Los Angeles photographer Michael Stokes resulting in an archive of over 600 images, including soldiers and sailors from Australia, England, France, Italy, Poland, Russia and the USA. During conflict troops often lived in the field with just one uniform and item of underwear to their name, regularly going for extended periods without a proper shower, so nudity became a natural part of their all male environment.  A unique visual insight into the everyday realities of war, My Buddy reveals young men, at their physical peak, dealing with the unimaginable pressures of combat by forming intimate ties and living each day to the full.

Commanders encouraged their men to establish close ‘buddy’ relationships for emotional support, and with soldiers often relying on each other for survival, these soon developed into intensely close bonds. Taken between battles, these photos are less to do with men fucking than men fucking about. As well as guys skinny-dipping and sunbathing, its lads together blowing off some steam, a bit of horseplay and some cheeky grab-ass. So as well as lots of guys messing about with their todgers out there is also an innocent quality to these often technically excellent photos, which makes them unexpectedly sweet and charming.

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Sumptuous yet simply produced with gold edge gilded pages in an old photo album format, My Buddy features artwork, extracts as well as photography. With commentary from editor Dian Hanson – who does all the Tom of Finland books – plus an introduction by Scotty Bowers, an 89-year-old ex-Marine and author of Full Service, the only possible negative is that the text in the book is repeated in German and French as well as English, which distracts a bit but is increasingly common.

My Buddy, WWII Laid Bare, published Taschen at £45, is available from Gay’s the Word and other disreputable bookshops.

My Buddy

Review originally posted in qx magazine.

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut – A Bite-Size Book Review

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Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut

Atlantic Books – Fiction – £17.99 HB

In this literary tour de force, Damon Galgut evokes the life of E. M. Forster and his travels to India in 1912, exploring the lure of forbidden desires and the mysterious alchemy of the creative process. A fictional exploration of the life and times of one of Britain’s finest novelists, Arctic Summer is lyrical, fluid, funny and exquisitely beautiful. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for In a Strange Room and The Good Doctor, it is nothing short of criminal that this latest treasure didn’t do as well in 2014 prize-land-world.

The Kills by Richard House – A Bite-Size Book Review

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The Kills by Richard House

Picador – Fiction – £9.99 PB

At 1000 pages this is a big but brilliant literary political thriller; perfect for those who like their reading with a generous dose of gritty conspiracy. The story begins in Camp Liberty, an unmanned staging-post and burn-pit site in Amrah province, Iraq and emanates out across continents, characters and sub-plots. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted forthe South Bank Sky Arts Award, The Kills is gloriously addictive and incredibly well written.