and still the niffy Liffey flows

The Second All-Ireland Gay Conference

The following impression of the Dublin Conference is partial, pig-headed, probably ego-maniacal and, I hope, accurate and entertaining.1

I arrived at the Conference venue (the Junior Common Room at Trinity College, Dublin) at ten o’clock or thereabouts on Saturday morning. Having parted with my registration fee, I nipped into a biggish room and borrowed a corner of the Derry Community Bookshop Bookworm‘s table to layout my wares: two editions of your favourite organ, and some of the Ayatollah’ posters.2

Almost immediately, two people swept down and said that the posters were racist. How do ye mean sez I. It’s got slant eyes sez they. Aye sez I, but they slant downwards!. This confused both parties, and my interlocutors went off muttering about the Steering Committee disapproving of the posters. So did Ian Paisley odd auld world isn’t it?

The first Workshop I sat-in on was called Coming Out / Personal Liberation. If you are interested, I was accused of being a racist, again, by a person who persistently used the scientifically neutral term Brit.

We didn’t really get beyond the Coming Out stage in this Workshop, partly due to the fact that most of us hadn’t, but mainly because of the small number of women in this group. One man had the odd experience of discovering his Gayness in the Curragh Prison Camp.

We broke for socialising and snack-freebie tea / coffee and nibbles, and also very tasty veggie meals supplied by a pleasant couple and (presumably) their child. It is very unusual in find Dublin whole-foodie types with smiles on their faces. They take the British Road, I am sour, therefore I am serious. Belfast is more American people like to display their (very healthy) teeth.

The next Workshop was Gays in a Patriarchal Society, which became largely a conversation between the Dublin Gay Collective and some Gays from Manchester (organised around the magazine The Mancunian Gay), with sensible comments from (largely independent) women. Some of the Dublin men were very sharp in their criticism of Gay male pornography as part of capitalist and therefore patriarchal society it was no different from pornography featuring women. The Mancunians said that Gay (male) porn is not intrinsically oppressive of the Gay men on either side of the camera. One of this group also defended cottaging.

In opposition to this a DGC person said that he did not even accept the definition man any more, and that he rejected phallic, capitalist, society with it sexploitation and its emphasis on the notion that sex (in men) equals ejaculation. Then he said that we should solidarise with the Republican Movement and the IRA is it political axe-grinding to point out that guns could hardly be more phallic?

I tried to make the point against the same person’s contempt for both camp and macho men, that these stereotypes are at least an attempt to create a niche for Gay men. And I still do emphasise the creative element in the construction of these stereotypes. No matter how unpalatable it is to some of us, capitalism is generally a progressive factor in the short term liberation of Gay people. Gay USA may be appalling, but at least it is open, up-front and brazen. Gay USSR or the Gay PRC (Peoples’ Republic of China) are unknown factors.

Sharon from Belfast made the point that women are, to a very great extent, entrenched in their mother / homemaker roles, and that anew consciousness has to be created before we talk of drastic changes in society. Most of the women in the Workshop rejected the idea of joining the standard political parties. I detected a note of condescension towards people who were not politically-aware. Some men innocently made some fairly crass remarks about women and their role in society. But they were there and seemed willing to learn.

The next event after a wee break (incidentally, to get from the JCR to the dining / socialising area, one had to duck through what had been a fireplace, it was a bizarre, Lewis Carrollian sensation) was GaySeand the Media. Again this was pitched high, the Dublin radicals claiming that all bourgeois media were anti-Gay. The Mancunians again took up the issue, and pointed out that they had used local radio to good effect. So, also, I thought, had the IGRM (Irish Gay Rights Movement), but apparently this wasn’t Kosher, so to speak. The question of [London] Gay News was raised, and a broad front to oppose its banning was mooted this appears not to have got off the ground. Irish Gay News was discussed, and no conclusion was come to. It will inevitably be the organ of the Dublin Gay Collective, the biggest of the various Collectives. This Workshop struck me as being largely a matter of craw-thumping on he part of the radicals against the big two (the IGRM and NGF (the National Gay Federation)) and against the media in general.

At the end we all adjourned for tea / coffee, then EVERYONE rushed out to watch videos of Bette Midler doing her wonderfully off-colour politically-unsound stuff. This left two persons in the dining areas both bureaucrats’, one from NIGRA and one from NGF. The NGF apparatchik had a brush in his hand and busied himself sweeping up. Your own NIGRA Orgman offered to help, then wandered off feeling pretty redundant. At four o’clock the next morning I found my host. I doubt if any other city could show such cool in the face of such an appalling guest. Just think what you would do in Derry or Belfast if a loony rang your doorbell at that time.

The first session next day (Sunday) was Gays at Work / In the Trade Unions. I sneaked off to Roy Holmes’s piano recital (his first in Dublin) at the Hugh Lane Gallery. It was a demonstration of how capitalism enforces ifs basic ideas. There is no entry-fee for these performances, so we had touristSeand their children milling about making noise. The audience were, without a doubt, the worst-behaved I have ever sat among. Holmes’s playing was wonderfully apt in Faure and Mozart. He isn’t heavy-handed or humourless enough for Liszt. He might as well have been telling dirty jokes to banjo accompaniment for all eh interest it evoked at the back of the hall. It had not been paid for therefore it could not be worthwhile.

Back at the talk-in we were told that a picnic was to be held on College Green. As nobody bothered to tell me where this place was, I wandered off to St. Stephens Green and, of course, feeling silly, wandered back almost immediately. Then we got down to something called Structures for Development. This displayed an alarming gap between the radicalSeand ordinary Gays. There waSeanger to the point of shrillness, with NGF and IGRM over the Charles Self3 affair. NIGRA was quite sharply criticised for the handling of the Kincora affair,4 but nobody actually suggested anything concrete. I was shaken by the lack of historical perspective shown by some people in this discussion. Ten years ago, Gay Ireland lived in the shadowSeand conducted its affairs in a very few grotty pubSeand even grottier public conveniences. The various Gay Collectives (well, Dublin and Cork) also struck me as incubating yet another Bureaucratic org.

This developed into a closing Plenary Session, which I had to leave early, at which, mysteriously NIGRA was accused of excluding women from the Carpenter Centre.

(This was not explained, as the Minutes of the Conference simply stated the above. NIGRA did not own a brick of the Carpenter’ even our describing it as a Centre’ was a bone of contention with the actual owner. The accusation probably arose out of Jeff Dudgeon’s refusal, in his capacity as manager, to sanction a free women-only disco. It may have been a short-sighted judgement. But the enterprise was losing money hand over fist, it appeared to be disappearing down the s-bend, taking Jeff’s mortgage with it. If he had agreed to the fund-raiser it might have brought in a whole new clientele. It equally might have bust the bank. This was shortly before the (voluntary) staff asserted themselveSeand chucked out the scruff who were repelling reasonable people from coming to the place. It is a great pity that such an eventuality occurred but a number of women just cut themselves out of an interesting adventure.

There might have been a suspicion that NIGRA was a rich powerful corporation (m r dhaidh) but we grizzled all through the 1980s that Thatcher’s government had denied us our costs 26,000 from the Strasbourg case. We had brought the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights in the matter of the denial of Jeff Dudgeon’s right to privacy. Mrs. T was not happy at our win and we got 2,000, which was invested in the Carpenter’, and then a further 2,000 in 1984.)

1 These Conferences, there were three of them, in Cork, Dublin then Belfast, were held in August.

2 These were pasted up around Belfast as part of a campaign against Dr. Paisley’s Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign and also against the (UK) government’s hiding behind this. It alleged that Dr. Paisley had tapped-in to consensus opinion in Northern Ireland. We suggested he had not we were vindicated.

3 Charles Self, an employee of RT (Radio Telef s ireann the nation broadcaster) was killed (1982) rather than pursue his killer, or killers, the Garda S och na emulated British police forceSeand investigated’ hundreds of people in Mr. Self’s address books, and others in theirs. This caused a great deal of anger among the Gay community in fact it may have been the making of a Gay community.

4 This had become a generic’ term for a series of cases of (sexual) abuse of children in care in the greater Belfast region. Actual children were raped in Williamson House, in north Belfast and were seriously sexually abused in Marmion House in Bangor, Co. Down. Kincora was a hostel for employed teenagers (16 – 18), and not children. It is likely that MainSeand Semple who worked in the facility from the early 1960s suspected what the other was up to, but they probably did not conspire with each other. And they most certainly did not confide in the busybody William McGrath. The latter, the Beast of Kincora’, is accused to having molested a large number of teenagers, but he was tried for only one such incident.

It was our (NIGRA the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, and its publication Gay Star that the concentration on Kincora and McGrath had to do with anti-Unionist politicSeand not the welfare of children. There was practically no publicity about Williamson House, or Marmion House, despite their being facilities for actual at-risk’, orphaned, or disturbed children). We also felt that the insinuation (some of it quite blatant) that Gay men were inherently child molesters’.

It is likely that some of the anger even on the part of self-consciously radical Gay men (the Collectives split along gender lines shortly after this Conference) was that we refused to join in the campaign of vilification of the Unionists on the grounds that some of them might be homosexual (the Unionists did not return the compliment). McGrath had founded a strange paramilitary’ group Tara, which had a British-Israelite’ ideology, and wanted to outlaw the Roman Catholic Church (it would be a cosy fit in the current Gay Establishment in GB). He had some sort of relationship with British Intelligence, but that probably had to do with his smuggling Bibles into the USSR, in the Sixties, and not with Ulster in the Seventies.

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