Three NIGRA persons went to the Gay Fest for a jaunt. Our first impression of the People’s Republic of South
Yorkshire was good – incredibly low bus fares. The second was dire, Sheffield (appears) to have the dourest population imaginable. The Gay Fest was held in the Polytechnic, a teacher training college with delusions of grandeur, its architecture based on the labyrinth principle. We had to walk to the opposite end of the campus to get to our billet, a very comfortable two-bed room. This is more than can be said for some of the other beds / rooms we slept in that weekend.
Apart from continually walking into closed meetings of CHE (the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) and into a wrangle between the SWPGG (Socialist Workers Party Gay Group) and a nice young man from the Spartacus League*. (The SL and SWP are among the 57 varieties of Trot groupeens), the young ‘Spart’ compared their ‘line’ on Ireland with that on Iran. The SWP gave undifferentiated support to the anti-Shah opposition, and look at what the Iranians got! In Ireland, Master Spartacus, said they supported anti-Gay and anti-women forces. This led to the epochal event of a member of the SWP admitting that his Party was small and not about to seize power just yet.
The next meeting I attended was a duo between the Liberal Gay Action Group (LibGAG) and the Gay Social Democrats (GSD). The Libs were very lordly and made rather injudiciously nostalgic remarks about the Lib-Lab pact pipe dream of the early ’70s (i. e. a governing alliance of Labour and the Liberals). The GSD took it in good part and asked sharp questions, like will the Liberals’ portmanteau Bill of Rights be feasible?
Others attended the Gay Youth Movement (GYM)’s AGM, where a snide article about them in the Gay Gazette (the Festival’s journal) was attacked and the author ‘Pandora’ asked to apologise and also admit his / her name. [It was Eric Presland / Peter Scott Presland – currently still playwriting and producing a history of CHE]. The youth groups GYM and the Joint Council for Gay Teenagers (JCGT) threaten to boycott next year’s Gay Fest.
Three of us attended the SHRG (Scottish Homosexual Rights Group)’s seminar on S / M (sado-masochism). It had a very good attendance neck and neck with the Labour Campaign for Gay Rights’ meeting which had the ‘bisexual’ MP for Bootle, Allan Roberts as guest speaker. [One of us ought to have gone – but ‘sex’ proved more of an attraction – upstart 2013]
The rest of Saturday was spent boozing and inflicting Gay Star on unsuspecting Brits. Thus we missed the Workshop on Sexism and an explanation of what was the Gay Community Organisation [GCO – CHE split itself into a ‘political / campaigning side – CHE, and a ‘social’ side the GCO. It was disastrous, GCO barely lasted out the year, and CHE was seriously weakened – upstart 2013]. We did get an ear-bashing about how wonderful Friday’s disco had been. It sounded great until we were told the Gay’s are only allowed in once a month!
We did see Eric Presland’s Teatrolley, or a Midsummer Night’s Scream, done by Consenting Adults in Public, in the open air. Drink, damp grass, and an aversion to cod-Shakespeare, somewhat cloud one’s judgement, but generally the parade of Gay ‘types’ was interesting: the two Liberationists offering tea and ideological purity – the clones, the leathermen (played by an actor of great beauty and courage… Anyone who would expose his bum to the inclemencies of an English Autumn, and an audience made up entirely of Gay women and men would have to be). There was also a policeman who turns almost human.
The evening ended on a deliberately sour note when Consenting Adults… handed out leaflets recounting the horrors while befell the Kasir family and their small business.
On Sunday morning after carefully avoiding the Act of Worship, and not being lucky enough to avoid the truly dreadful breakfast, we nipped into the Gay Rights at Work meeting, where we learned that Judith Williams is getting fed up with a dreary round of meeting – and general unpleasantness.
We then went off to the worst-attended, but in many ways the most interesting meeting of the weekend. The Revolutionary Gay men’s Caucus organised Political Activity and Social Life, which was basically a pretty punchy attack on the Gay Liberation movement. According to their outlook the radicals, the lobbyists / civil-righters and the Gay proprietors, were as one in seeing the oppression of Gays as a ‘technical matters of the distribution of resources’. Meanwhile, whole categories of people are excluded from the Gay ‘scene’ – women, the disabled, the elderly, Black Gays, and to an extent, the unemployed. The Gay Liberation Front had married revolutionary rhetoric to feeble reformist demands. Thus they had to defend sexual pluralism under any guise, e. g., pornography, S / M – one of the RGMC defended pædophilia, presumably on the grounds that it wasn’t exploitative.
The arguments of the Caucus were rather like traversing a superbly engineered bridge, which one suddenly realises does not quite reach to opposite shore. They offered no programme – ‘shopping lists of demands were useless without money or power’. And some of the building materials of the bridge were questionable. The ‘working class’ was referred to as if it were a solid entity. Questioning brought the admission that it was difficult to define the working class, and that it is wracked with deep contradictions anyway; racism, sexism and so forth.
Their attitude to ‘Ireland’ was, roughly: the Brits are in Ireland for imperialist reasons, therefore it was a brill idea to chuck ’em out. The people who said this did admit that they were not entirely happy about the results for Gay people.
An overall impression of the Festival: the price of set meals did tend to put a damper on socialising over meals, the restaurants and cafés on Eccleshall Road did a roaring trade. The youth groups and ILIS (International Lesbian Information Service) met in separate venues from the (‘adult’) male, or anyway, male-oriented groups. We only saw them striding purposely about from place to place.
The main corridor, from the bar to the gym-cum-disco area, was crowded with stalls hired by all sorts of Gay groups; revolutionaries, Tories (but no fascists – yet), humanists, Christians (but no Muslims or Hindus), weekend walkers, real ale freaks, pure-as-the-driven-snow bookshops, and bookshops selling porn. There were bisexuals and leather people, but no (overt) pædophiles, young people, and a considerable number of decidedly elderly people. People selling good papers, people selling bad papers, and people selling… um… Gay Star.
A Workshop deriving out of Saturday’s seminar on S / M was very interesting, and would have been more interesting if it had not been decided to split us into two groups. In a small room this caused both sessions to be incomprensible. People admitted to being nervous about some of the accoutrements of S / M sex, and admitted that their fascination with the outer manifestations of dominance was distressing to them. Admittedly, some others did not find such things in the least distressing.
Early in the session someone launched a shrill and rather over-heated attack on S / M, suggesting that people into S / M are also into ‘terminal sex’. The argument is self-evidently foolish. Not everybody is a Mistress / Master, and anyway the economics of sex intervenes. If you constantly bump people off, apart from the fact that it becomes rather noticeable even in the most closeted of scenes, you will find that people will no longer accept your invitations to light torture sessions. Possibly this person was trying to say, in the manner of Freudian psychoanalysis, that S / M is something else. Leather-sex people are ‘really’ repressed corpse-fuckers.
So far as we were concerned, the Festival ended roughly here. We went off to the Stars disco later in the evening. The organisers’ “five minute’s walk” proved to be wildly over-optimistic; it was more like half an hour. The disco (run by Mecca, inventors of ‘Miss World’) was pretty drab. It had a curious, limp, pre-liberation feel – there were lots of black’n’white pics of 1940s Hollywood ‘stars’. There were lots of Muir caps with Anglo-Saxon potato faces under them. The huge bar sold flat beer at inflated prices, and the dance floor was small.
The only Gay elements were the Muir caps and the poppers. The Gays are allowed into Stars once a fortnight.
* This was probably called the Spartacist League – a ‘Spartacus League’ was, or had been, the youth wing of the SWP (in its early IS / International Socialist guise). This may not be entirely accurate – but the niceties of British Trotskyist history are very complex. [upstart 2013].
This was the last Gay Fest – they had been run by CHE – presumably there was some debate about whether or not it was a ‘political’ or a ‘social’ event.
Fortunately CHE decided some year’s ago that the political and the social are no longer incompatible.