(Out-take from Gay Star No. 9 (Nov. 1982))
… and still the niffy Liffey flows…
I arrived at the Conference venue – the Junior Common Room of 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 lay out my wares. They were two editions of your favourite organ and some of the Ayatollah posters.
Almost immediately, two people swept down and said that the posters were racist. “How do you 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 poster. So did Ian Paisley — odd auld world isn’t it?
The first Workshop I sat-in on was Coming Out / Personal Liberation. If you are interested, I was accused of being 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, due to the fact that most of us hadn’t, but mainly because of the small number of women in our group [making it unrepresentative – upstart 2013]. One man had had the odd experience of discovering his Gayness in the Curragh Prison Camp. We broke for socialising and a snack – freebie tea / coffee and nibbles, and also very tasty veggie meals supplied by a pleasant couple and (one assumes) their child. It is unusual to find Dublin whole-foody types with smiles on their faces. They take the British Road – “I am sour, therefore, I am serious”. Belfast is more American – people seem to like displaying their (very healthy) teeth.
The next Workshop was Gays in a Patriarchal Society. This became largely a conversation between the Dublin Gay Collective and some Gays from Manchester, with sensible comments from some (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 them defended ‘cottaging’.
In opposition to this a DGC spokesperson said that he did not even accept the definition “man” anymore, and that he rejected phallic, capitalist society with its sexploitation and its emphasis 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 man. I did, and still do, emphasise the creative element of the construction of these stereotypes. And, no matter how unpalatable it is to some of us, capitalism is generally a progressive factor in the – short-term – liberation of Gays. Gay USA may be appalling, but at least it is open, up-front and brazen. Gay USSR or Gay PRC (People’s 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 a new consciousness has to be created before we can 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 fairly crass remarks about women and their role in society. But they were there, and appeared willing to learn.
Through the fireplace
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 billed as Gays and the Media. Again, this was pitched high, as the Dublin radicals said 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 IGRM (the Irish Gay Rights Move-ment), 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 [in ‘Éire’] was mooted – this appears not to have got off the ground. An Irish Gay News journal was discussed, and no conclusion was come to; it will inevitably be the organ of the Dublin Gay Collective, which is the biggest of the various Collectives.
This Workshop struck me as being largely a matter of craw thumping on the part of the radicals, against the “big two” (southern Gay groups – NGF and IGRM) 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, ideologically unsound stuff. This left two people in the dining area – 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, and being politely refused, wondered off feeling pretty redundant.
At four o’clock the next morning I found my host. I doubt if any other city should show such “cool” in the face of an appalling guest. Just think what you would do in Belfast or Derry if a loony rang your doorbell at that time.
The first session on Sunday was Gays at Work / In the Trade Unions. I sneaked off to Roy Holmes’s piano recital at the Hugh Lane Gallery (Parnell Square North). It was a demonstration of how capitalism enforces its basic ideas. There is no entry fee for these recitals (this was Roy Holmes’s first – in Dublin) and so you had children and tourists milling about making noise. The audience were without a doubt the worst behaved I have ever sat among, his playing was wonderfully apt in Fauré and Mozart, but he isn’t heavy-handed or humourless enough for Liszt. He may as well have been telling dirty jokes to banjo accompaniment, for all the interest it evoked at the back of the hall. It had not been paid for – therefore it could not be good.
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. Stephen’s 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 radicals and ordinary Gays. There was anger, to the point of shrillness, with NGF (the National Gay Federation) and IGRM over the Charles Self affair. NIGRA was quite sharply criticised for the handling of the Kincora affair — but nobody actually suggested anything concrete.
I was shaken by the lack of historical perspective shown by some people here. Ten years ago Gay Ireland lived in the shadows and conducted its affairs in a very few grotty pubs and grottier public conveniences. The Dublin and Cork Gay Collectives struck me as incubating yet another ‘Bureaucratic Org’.
This developed into a Closing Session, which I had to leave early, and at which, mysteriously, NIGRA was accused of excluding women from the Carpenter Centre.
The last few lines should be explained. It was a trap that should have been sprung earlier. At which point I could have explained as follows: NIGRA put all its money (£2000) into the Carpenter Club as an investment. We hoped the (purely commercial) venture would devolve into a Gay Centre – it did, as a matter of fact. But the main investor decided he was opposed to ‘politics’. He bought out Jeff Dudgeon, and made life problematical for NIGRA – claiming that a further £2000 investment (the four grand was given to NIGRA by Thatcher’s government as a consequence of the Dudgeon Strasbourg case) – had been ‘a loan’. NIGRA did not ‘own’ a brick of the building that probably cost at a minimum hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The people making these accusations were not kids from the Falls or Shankill Roads but members of the property-owning class. It all grew out of a refusal by Jeff to allow the venue to be used at no rental for a women-only disco. That was because it was leaching money – and a disco was opened in a plush hotel doing his enterprise down. Some things then happened simultaneously – the major investor vanished. The staff then purged the low-life he had allowed in. And the rival establishment’s defects became more apparent. A main one being their greed. They had no overhead costs and the hotel made a mint from the bar – on a night when it would otherwise have been bolted and barred. But they charged more than the Carpenter did. And punters had to use taxis to get there, and back home.
So far as the women’s disco is concerned, Jeff probably made the wrong decision – but bad luck begets bad luck. A short-term loss might have encouraged more customers over time. It meant that some women – but hardly the regular disco-going ones – avoided the place. It meant that when the place closed they were, to an extent, embarrassed when it became obvious who was the owner. It is not a sensation that endears most people to an organisation. NIGRA remained in the doghouse.
Some years after the above Conference (of three – the grisly truth about the 3rd will be recounted another time) the ‘radicals’ involved themselves in AIDS-work. That was very worthy and useful. It also opened their eyes to reality. The first things anyone ‘on the scene’ asks is along the lines of ‘Who the fuck are you?’, whether it is begging for money for good causes, selling a paper, or simply asking for information.
(That is not entirely accurate, in Belfast we had established our credentials and could take some risks, in carrying out surveys, issuing questionnaires – though as the commercial ‘scene’ developed it got more problematical. One proprietor jibbed at condoms and safe-sex information being handed out at his disco. Though he didn’t argue with the notion that the punters were there to find sex-partners. We had to stand well away from one of the pubs to do the same, or to distribute a free-sheet, upstart mostly.)